Sunday, November 04, 2007

There is No God but Dionysus...

...and Shakespeare is his prophet.

Joshua James 1
Joshua James 2

laura axelrod 1
laura axelrod 2
laura axelrod 3

Ah the religion of the secularists and the glorious, cult-like fanaticism of it's adherents. 

Theatre has always tried to maintain it's mystical roots, even here in this least mystical of ages. Invocations and incarnations to raise the holy theatre above the common consumerist fray. 

I hyperbolize, but there is definitely a remaining hard religious edge to the way many in this community go about this business. This is most evident in the way we react to someone trying to leave 'the church'.

By way of background...

Mine was a Christian upbringing. A good one. My family is a Christian family, and they do it the right way. It was not a house of judgement. It was very much about living life the way god intended and showing by example that God's way was simply better.

And I wasn't just a a Cultural Christian. I (and my friends) meant it. I intended to go into Ministry of some kind through whatever career I eventually chose.

Through a slow degradation that faith dwindled to nothing, which was more sad than some sort of release. (If you're curious, this is all more particularly described by metes and bounds at my personal journal here

"Travis, this is supposed to be a theatre blog, what gives?"

I know, right?

The above is all to say: I am well-versed in the ins and outs of church life, and I am sensitive to the failings of the American Protestant Church as I see them. So when those failings crop up in my theater world they pop in technicolor for me.

That theatre dogma exists isn't surprising. The dislike of Other because they believe differently. The false piety of the true believers. The rampant unassailable persecution complex. The belief that attendance and (of course) tithing will save the country and the world, while improving your soul?

They're all there.

George Hunka even wrote 95 Theses for us!

Whether these reactions exist because it's a human condition or because the culture of American Protestantism is so pervasive in this country as to be unavoidable is really a whole different debate, and I have no experience outside this country to help settle the Americanism portion of the equation. I am here to discuss what happens when people try to leave the First American Church of Dionysus. Or even simply question how business is done.

Which of course why the above five blog posts are linked.

Laura left the Church out of frustration and the need to move on to something more fulfilling. Mr. James simply questions the treatment of playwrights in modern American theatrical culture.

Why aren't both valid responses?

They are both questioned and dismissed and Ms. Axelrod gets the condescending "aw, you'll be back." As though hers was a decision made in haste.

Not to say that arguing isn't valid (or fun), but the stridency of these responses is a little surprising. Or not. I am as guilty of these reactions as anyone.

My friend Ron is something of a technical savant. Of the "walks into a room and machines fix themselves" variety. He was an incredibly valuable theatre technician and by all rights should be the technical director of a theatre somewhere. He isn't because after college he walked away. I (and others) gave him no end of grief over it. His simple response? "I didn't love theatre, I loved doing theatre with you guys." So he created a life he loved, it just wasn't the life WE chose for him.

I have even given my fiance the old chestnut "I don't think you love it enough" as regards her theatre career. Why would I be that stupid? Because of course it is expected that you will make every possible sacrifice on the altar of Dionysus to make theatre happen. And she isn't going to do that. Theatre is a career for her. She won't do it for free.

And really both responses are perfect. Theatre is just another path. There isn't a right way to do it. And we need to stop trying to force people down one.

"Travis, you sound like kind of an ass, why would you treat your friends and loved ones like that?"

I do sound like an ass, and I wouldn't share the fact that I had behaved like that if I wasn't sure that almost everyone in this field has done something equally stupid in their lives, and probably in their theatre lives. 

Examine your interactions with people - online and in everyday life. Look at where you are applying your personal dogma and your expectations of yourself to others, and try to mitigate that behavior.  I don't expect that you will show up an hour and a half early to rehearsal simply because I do. I don't think that Mr. James is exhibiting a martyr complex or sour grapes simply because he's run into some jackasses in his career and isn't afraid to say so, and I wish Ms. Axelrod every success in whatever field she chooses. The theatre world will miss her talent, but it's not as though she took her ball, went home, and became a CPA.

It's time we stop treating people as backslidden, heretics, and apostates for doing it their way.

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