Monday, March 02, 2009

Is there anybody out there? Or: Why World Theatre Day

I’m not really a joiner. I lurk, and then I lurk, and then I lurk some more. So how the hell did I find myself mixed up with a super committed group of theatre makers pushing to better establish something that had no direct pay off for our already overbooked lives?

Mostly wrong time, wrong place, and a dash of big mouth, but really it comes down to one thing:

Community is damned infectious.

The thing that surprises everyone who ever commits to a new community fully and deeply is how many folks Just Like You there are, and how quickly bonds grow. It was true in the quick pseudo-families that grew out of Usenet and IRC in the mid-90’s and it’s true of tech like Twitter (broadcast, single-channel IRC) now.

We as theatremakers spend a lot of quality time with 3 or 4 or 50 people in tight quarters under looming time/budget/artistic constraints, and we cultivate a deep and pervasive bunker mentality.

If you don’t believe that, you’ve never talked to an indie theatremaker, or read a 22 year-old’s mission statement asserting that THEY will be the one group in any town doing new work.

Then you read a broad swathe of theatre blogs, or talk to the trajillions of theatre folks on Twitter, and they’re all going through the same things you are. And you get the desire to swim with the larger tribe for a minute, not just the pod you create with.

Combined with my strong desire to tie my local community more tightly together and I think it’s pretty obvious why I’m not sitting this one out.

There are of course cynics who want ROI and TPS reports, and budget numbers on every activity. Chris Wilkinson seems to embody this cynicism with a mention on his Guardian blog post:

So it's nice to start this week's roundup on a more upbeat note. According to Rebecca Coleman at the Art of the Business blog, the International Theatre Institute's World Theatre Day is coming up on 27 March. Coleman has teamed up with the Next Stage blog to throw a World Theatre Day party. "Everyone's invited," she exclaims. To kick it off, they have created a new blog for people to exchange ideas about how to mark the day.

This is all great in theory, but there does seem to be something paradoxical about the idea of a World Theatre Day. After all, it is true that great art should be able to reach across cultural and geographical divides. But theatre, as a live and communal event, is something that cannot easily be separated from the location in which it takes place. As such, it is surely impossible to create any kind of meaningful theatrical experience which can be shared by people around the world. But maybe we should just wait until 27 March and see what happens.

World Theatre Day isn’t about creating a global theatre experience. It’s about celebrating the local theatre experience globally. World Theatre Day is an acknowledgement that we are all doing this thing that we love.

And the internet allows us to share those local celebrations and revel in the fact that we’re not alone in our pursuit, and that no matter how many times they try to prove it to us mathematically, theatre is not dead.

So on a theoretical March 27th:

Mr. Walters and his students do a free reading on the quad in Asheville, and take pictures or video and share them on the World Theatre Day media hub (hosted on Tumblr) where if you scroll down a little bit you see folks from the Player’s Ring in Portsmouth reading Augusto Boal’s address before their show, and then there are some pictures from an alumni gathering at a performance at the Barksdale in Richmond or a Middletown town celebration after an opening weekend performance of Cotton Patch Gospel at the Wayside, then some video from My First Time in Vancouver, and pictures from the theatre community parties in Austin and Chicago where all of the theatremakers not performing have gathered to celebrate the life that is in theatre even in this global anxiety attack.

Maybe I’m naive.

Maybe I’m the only one who thinks that seeing a couple of thousand folks who are all paddling in the same direction I am exist, and want to celebrate with me even if we are separated by geography is spectacular, and would energize me….

But I’m pretty sure I’m not.

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