Saturday, December 10, 2011

PRAGMATIC: Importance

A must-read from Rob Weinert-Kendt on the need for importance in theater:
But why do I feel the need to go further than to say it's entertaining and leave it at that? I agree with one of the more astute critics I read, David Barbour, that the play does have more to say than may meet the eye—for one, there's that extraordinary monologue, delivered by Alan Rickman, at maybe the two-thirds-point, which anatomizes a writer's dissipation in terms at once hilarious, acrid, and finally existential. But how much does a play that entertains us this well in the moment need to also satisfy our sense that it's also deeply valuable on some world-historical level, and/or that it will "survive" and somehow measure up beyond this production, i.e., without the first-rate cast and director it has now? (It's not unlike the dilemma I outlined in my thoughts about Jerusalem.)  
 It has a lot to do with what we mean when we say we're entertained—with what parts of us a play tickles, flatters, stimulates. We feel cheap if it's just pumping us for laughs, flattered if we're allowed space to think for ourselves about what we're watching, stimulated if we're surprised or teased into thinking about something more than what we're watching (other than the grocery list). But are a tickle, a tease, and a release of laughter enough?
Isaac tags on: 
I wonder if this has to do with two other currents within the theater: its irrelevance to the culture at large and the price of its tickets. Do we do this because we're shelling out a lot of money and thus we either want a Big Epic Production OMG!!!1! or we want to know that we've seen something capital-i-Important? Do we also do this because we have anxiety over the art form we love-- whether as audiences, artists or both-- and that the heyday of it as a cultural force in America has been over for some time? Thus, if we're going to go play in our little sandbox, do we need the validation that what we're doing is vital, damnit, even if nobody's looking?
Isaac's got two of the ingredients for our need for theater, but hey, let me throw out a third: the alternatives are getting cheaper, and you can have them delivered to your home!

If you want to have something that is playful, tickles, stimulates, and is funny, there's the biggest repository of easily digestible clips. Here it is. It's got some of our best stand-up comedians, men who dress up and do funny raps, great slapstick duos, and amusing political satire. If you want something that's over ten minutes, you can head over to Netflix, and have great films or hilarious sitcoms streamed to you.

Suppose history had been reversed, and these things had been invented before theater. Now a theater person comes along and says, "Hey, instead of sitting at home on your couch and watching this entertainment, why don't you get in a car, drive for fifteen to forty minutes to a theater, pay fifteen to fifteen hundred dollars, sit in a foreign and probably uncomfortable environment."

You had better do something better, or at least make me feel like it's better.

So, one way is simply to do something of higher quality. But, hey, everyone says that their thing is of higher quality. That's hard to communicate. So many be a nice shorthand would be to tell them, "Our thing is more important."

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