Thursday, August 02, 2007

Each of you is God's special little snowflake.

Well that right there was a fun little week in the theatrosphere.

You got your bile in my vitriol!


Scott Walters got back on his horse named Provocation, or, as Nick over at Rat Sass aptly metaphored, strapped his guns back on. Six weeks of the New Civility Code imploded over a seemingly slight infraction, Iowa 08 pokes some (alleged) lazy fun at the Midwest. And Scott rode down that fun and trampled it to death.

Mac Rogers called bullshit on Scott calling bullshit, and then everyone piled on. It was pretty stunning all in all.

There's nothing quite like a glove-slap charge of cultural hegemony to wake up the Persecuted.

The always civil, mild-mannered Joshua James posits that because he (Mr. James) from Iowa, and lives in New York that Scott has no idea what he's talking about, with a wonderful highlight  being the absolutely unbiased:  

I’m not going to link to the Blogger, simply because I don’t want to send anymore traffic his way. He’s not in New York, he’s neither a writer, director, actor or producer. He’s a theatre professor.

After a brief respite (happy anniversary Scott) Mr. Walters returned to a flaming inbox and tried to retrench his argument, and answer for his return to provocateur.

And then everyone said they didn't understand and didn't want to talk about it anymore. Except Scott. Who despite some unfortunate language choices, really does want a solution, not a war.

Everyone comes out looking pretty bad, except for Australia and Freeman.

So what are we talking about really?

Are we really so upset that Mr. Walters pointed out again that New York is biased towards New York?  Is that news? I was unaware that this was an open question. of course New York is biased towards New York. Isaac sums it up pretty well: the history of America is at least in part a history of outright antipathy between The City and The Country.

So why isn't the response from The New York chapter simply he same as Scott's response to Allison Croggon's charge of Scott's US-centrism?

"I write what I know".

Theatre is local. Theatre is for a local audience. It isn't New York's responsibility to be writing for a southern audience, or writing about issues germane to Southern culture. North Carolina isn't under the gun to write trenchant commentary about the gentrification of Park Slope.

We all use stereotypes as shorthand, why do we have to lie about it? All a writer can do (on either side) is be honest about the caricature, or try harder to write true depictions of those from other subcultures.  That's it. That's all you can do. If a playwright isn't writing honest characters into being with why do we care that they're writing cultural stereotypes?

So we honestly need to let NYC off the hook a little bit. New York isn't a national theatre. It is New York theatre. The single biggest flaw in the repeated shotgun blasts from Mr. Walters is that he lumps the broader media in with theatre, and frankly they have different scopes and different responsibilities and it's muddying the picture.

Los Angeles on the other hand is squarely on the hook. L.A. is national media. L.A. sets the tone for our national dialogue in a way we only wish that live performance could. And they are just as lazy about cultural stereotyping as Mr. Walters says. Again I am surprised that this is an open question. Are we all watching different mainstream media?

As to the rancor over bias:

I am biased.

All I can do is be aware of my biases and not let them destroy my work.

  • I am am biased against musical theatre
  • I am biased against children's theatre
  • I am biased against community theatre
  • I am biased towards word plays
  • I am biased toward political themes
  • I am biased toward didacticism
  • I am biased toward cleverness (text or performance)
  • I am biased toward over-exposition
  • I am biased against "issue" plays
    (no this is not in conflict with above)
  • I am biased toward new work
  • I am biased against mature actors
  • I am biased against cultural conservatism

I'll add on as more come to me. This of course will feel different than, say, being biased against the Country (to borrow Isaac's construct), but they are just as destructive to the work, and towards building community (which I take as part of my responsibility as an artist). Besides I'm not sure where I fall on the City/Country scale with my 24 years in New Hampshire, 5 in San Francisco, and 3 in Austin.

I have more raw years in New Hampshire, but the large percentage of my adult life in urban and semi-urban environs.

Follow up sins:

  • "I am not biased therefore New York is not biased" is fallacious.
  • Claiming to rep your old hood while in New York is disingenuous.
  • Trying to use lack of specific data backing up an editorial as a terminal point is weak, especially on such a broad topic. Argue the premise. It's not a journal article.
  • The New York theatre scene is not [any more] persecuted [than theatre anywhere else]. Not matter how many times Scott Walters calls you out. It's just different persecution. The criticism comes with being in first place. (Ask the Yankees)

Go see:

In New York?

Madagascar, by New World Theatre; written by Wry Lachlan, Directed by Meghan Dickerson, featuring members of my former tribe all over the place.

In Austin?

The King and I by Forklift Danceworks.

Brilliant Traces by the Vestige Group featuring the always good Andrew Varenhorst.

A Midsummer Night's Dream - over at Scottish Rite - featuring old ArtSpark mate Illy herrin as Puck.

and last but not least: The 2007 ArtSpark Festival is here! Check it out.


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