Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One eyed, one horned, flying purple people something something

I have very few theatrical pet peeves. I do have a loathing of actors who refuse to recognize that English is an idiomatic language ( SO SPEAK IT THAT WAY), and I dislike alcohol mixed with performance, but really you're more likely to annoy me on an individual level than on a global issue.  

I get very frustrated by the lack of public vocabulary for theatre. Last week as he was preparing to come see the Nina Variations a coworker asked what the "proper" thing to call the play was, because I was continually referring to it as a production, and I had rather unceremoniously extracted the manhood of the CAD tech who wanted to know why I was spending so much time on "[my] skits".

But the public's sliding scale of what they consider small theatre to be is the most frustrating to me. Part of it is my issue, I want to be taken seriously, and I work hard to make sure that my work product reflects that. But the general population has no idea how to classify small theatre. 

Michael Barnes in a warm and mostly complimentary piece on his on his Out and About blog (part of the Austin-American Statesman's Austin360 site) talks about Different Stages' current production of Shaw's Getting Married, and calls them "Austin's most literate community theater". Which he means as the compliment it almost is, except that Norman Blumensaadt and Different Stages is a multiple award winning theatre group judged on the same merits as the multimillion dollar Zach Scott Theatre.

I have nothing against community theatre, but there is a marked difference between professional caliber production that doesn't get paid, and amateurs whose primary reason for performing is for themselves. If we label our high quality small theatre groups with the same brush that we label our committed amateurs we are sinking an audiences motivation to see the work. 

I regularly have to deal with people whose response to a show invitation (with professional marketing materials) is: "my niece did a play last year". Not their fault, they are trying to remember the last time they went to a show and relate to the interaction that's currently happening, but there is no universe in which that connection should be made.

So we need to be careful with our labeling, even if that makes us arugula eating snobs. If I am being judged against the same standards as the closest thing the Austin area has to a regional theatre, and the area's major university programs, I need for our brightest producing companies to not be considered in the audience-going mind with non-professionals. You don’t compare a web startup to a lemonade stand no matter that they are both businesses in their beginning stages.

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