Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Over at the Guardian, Chris Wilkinson has written a post about my back and forth conversation with Todd Olson. In the comments George Hunka writes in, saying:

"I hate to belabor the rather tiresome point that what Garrett suggests has been going on for well over fifty years in the United States and elsewhere."

(For reference, what Garrett has said is: "
Now more than ever, we need to make it easier for a lone director, or playwright, or actor to simply book a hall and put up his or her own work.")

Hunka has conflated two points—no one is argueing that people doing their own work on their own terms (as much as possible) doesn't exist. Garrettt is saying we need more of it, by making a more equitable playing field. These are two different things.

This is what Richard Foreman, Young Jean Lee, Richard Maxwell and dozens of artists have done over the past several decades;

Lee just gave an interview in the Nation about how she needs to work beyond theatre to survive. Foreman has a trust fund, and has relied on it or his early work would have been impossible. I don't know Maxwell's circumstances, but I know some of his company members live incredibly close to the bone.

If these are the highlights of the American theater, what does it say about our art form that they're treated this poorly? I would submit that this is a failure of priority, focus, and human connection. I think it's painful to treat these as success stories—if they are, they've succeeded *despite* the paradigm.

in England, Howard Barker has his own company; in Australia Daniel Keene's first plays were produced by his own company.

The focus of my arguements has always been American theater—while I've lived in England, and worked in Australia, their economic landscape for artists is wildly different than America's.

Not to mention many of the performers in both New York's Incubator and Performance Space 122's seasons, who know that the ideology that drives both Olson's and Daisey's visions of American theatre doesn't have room for the kinds of work that they want to do.

I find it hard to believe that you actually believe my work to make the arts more artist-driven doesn't have room for many different kinds of work. I'd submit that any way you'd slice it it has a lot more room for variety and variance, for presenting and self-production, than the current landscape.

Movement forward in the American theatre is unlikely to take place within the walls of the large corporate entities that Daisey and Olson are debating, but on the stages of these smaller venues, who curate rather than produce work.

It depends on what you mean by "forward". If you mean strictly and only aesthetic, you might be right—often the best art comes from the small places. But I'd submit that it's a blinkered addiction to aesthetics that helped lead us to the current inequitable working and living conditions...and that this priority shift didn't even achieve the dream it was reaching for.

I'd say that the way forward needs to focus on a reshifting of priorities away from institutions and onto people. I also believe that the largest theaters and institutions, who control most of the current resources, need to be reminded of their obligations and compelled to act. That's the arena I am working within, so that is where I currently work for change.

Beyond the consumerist ideologies of whether American theatre "fails" or "succeeds,"

It is in no way consumerist to talk about how theater in American is failing its audiences, its artists and its self. It is in no way consumerist to talk about how American theater is failing to make itself relevant in a cultural context.

these companies are redefining theatre and pointing the way to new forms and recognitions;

And that is great. I would just like to see them not have to do it on their knees over broken glass, and then I'd like to see more of them strengthened to stand up and walk.

the current debate about institutional theatre model, whether Olson's or Daisey's, is a debate about real estate and the social safety net.

I agree it's a debate about real estate in part. I see my role as helping to change a discussion that has been entirely about buildings back to being about people, but unless one lives in a faerieland the topic of real estate is going to raise its head.

But "social safety net"? I'd love to hear this explained, because it sounds as though Hunka is equating security and wages for artists with wefare.

In the avoidance of discussing the work that transpires on these stages – the work that these institutional theatres support, and the ideological basis of that support

It's true that I don't in my current arguments dictate what kind of work should be done. I believe that isn't my role in this discussion. I do believe there are fruitful discussions to be had about the state of devised work vs playwright-driven work, and my own beliefs about what is and is not great art, but in an effort to clarify the conversation. That may change in the years to come.

– they seem to want to defend a theatre that is comfortable, safe and secure for both its audiences and its practitioners.

First, there's no way theater today is comfortable, safe and secure for the practitioners
anywhere, so I can't be defending that status quo, as it doesn't exist.

Second, while I certainly agree that a lot of theater suffers from making its audiences too comfortable, I don't think my work over the last few years can even remotely be construed as defending that kind of theater.

It is possible to imagine that I could be seen as part of the problem, *if* you believe that nothing except bourgeois comfort can come from any theater that is not on a vanishingly short list of approved downtown experiences. I do not believe this, and I think it's a solipsistic rabbit hole into which people can hide.

But without risk and danger, theatre and art is nothing.

Because I am American, I spell theater -er rather than -re.

When Noah Webster created the new American dictionary he formalized the American spelling of all such words as -er, including the word theater.

Interestingly it was theater owners, who were afraid that the new spelling would not appear as erudite and snobbish as the -re spelling, who clung to the old spelling.

Spelling and cultural baggage aside, I entirely agree with the last point.

12:56 PM