Monday, September 22, 2008

Pragmatic Theater: Responsivity III [A Lack Of Spontenaiety]

So, technology is one of the many avenues that people have looked down for a solution to the problem of theater's unresponsiveness. There is a genuine desire for audience-members to be more involved in the show. Fuerzabruta, for instance, partly banks its success on the novelty of having audience-members to wander through the performance as an environment, rather than as a static event which they are trapped to watch.

Unfortunately, there is a trap that is easy to fall into, especially with a world of theater-people who are trained to the realities of the Read-Only Theater. Namely, artists today have an inflated view of the artist's primacy in the work.

Theaterpeople like to be prepared, just like everyone else. That's why we have a script: my theory is that scripts were invented because some theaterfolk were afraid they'd be caught at a loss for words. The script supplies all of those words beforehand. So do pre-blocked directions. I, as an actor, must admit that both the script and blocking don't sit very well in my memory. If a director does not ride me very hard, I will closely approximate both. I don't defend that--it is my job to provide the director with whatever he thinks the show needs--but I would like to point out that originally the script and blocking were to be an aid, and now they have become a requirement.

Nowadays, entire shows are planned from beginning to end. Gestures, facial expressions, emotions, dance routines, songs, lines, movements across the stage, lights; everything is perfectly planned to a 't'. And yet we still tell people that the best part of theater is the spontaneous, every-night-it's-different feel? Phantom of the Opera may have gotten better or worse by small degrees over the course of its run, and maybe occasionally an "event" would happen that would derail it, but if you saw it once a year every year, you'd see roughly the exact same show each night.

And in truth, there's a lot of comfort to the theaterperson in this. After all, if this pre-planned show is good, then it is good. And I don't disagree that sometimes the best way to tackle a show is to pre-plan it. Pre-planned shows can achieve a level of specificity and intricacy that is simply out of reach of improvised, spontaneous productions. Let nothing I say detract from that.

But where has our spontaneous side gone, other than to Improv and the Internet? It cannot solely be blamed on a desire for preparation.

The other is, I'm sad to say, an elitist trend in art that says that only artists can create it, which is rubbish. I believe that true artists are better trained and better qualified to create art (there are some who are not, but I will forgive them). But that only means that they, the elites, should be leaders. They should bring those of us who don't see ourselves as completely artistic with them. It should not be a process of propaganda: it should be a process of education. (That's a whole 'nother kettle of fish, I'll touch that in a later post).

The artist, in self-defense, shuts out all of the people who would disrupt his pre-plan: the audience. After all, the audience has not been party to the process, and doesn't know the plan. So obviously they should sit in the dark and watch the plan as it unravels. What else would they do?

How can we break the artist of this ego-centric approach that only they belong in art?