by Nick Fracaro
Theater is now so divorced from the rest of our lives that we use the word “seasons” in theater in the same way we use holiday as replacement for Holy Day. The Xmas season. That merry, merry tidings-of-comfort-and-joy time that produces more suicides than any other. Not that Christ-mass itself didn’t X out an earlier (purer?) pagan ritual celebrating the winter solstice.
Seasons in theater are a function of paying the rent and are one of the most unnatural things we force on ourselves and our audiences.
Ten years back when regional theaters were doing Kabuki Hamlets and such, I thought a much more natural choice would have been a Kabuki Scrooge. Some people, as a ritual you might say, still go to church and theater at that “special” time. That’s why many theaters roll out their lowly annual Scrooge once a year which pays the rent for their Hamlets.
I think we should create theater during that special time at that special place. We should shut up the rest of the time and quit annoying people. Also, we should learn how to rob banks or the stock market in order to pay the rent. Any means necessary on that front are ethical because of our “poetic license,” even if politically incorrect or illegal. That license also makes us responsible for waging a kind of jihad against our own mentality that would opt for a McTheater that strips our mealtime of its ritual.
We have earned our Poetic License because we DO NOT produce theater all the time, more than because we do.
The Thirteenth Annual Mermaid Parade was a success again on all terms applied to it. So next year at the summer solstice weekend another parade. The Sideshow selling its two buck tickets to masses all summer was also a success. To siphon the resources of these two successful productions to support activities that can’t create their own audience is an abuse and worse than doing nothing. If you produce theater to a “winter season” audience of twenty and the obligatory reviewer who always begins or ends his review with “To experience Coney Island in the off-season is reason enough to go there.”, know exactly what it is you’re creating. Something not quite theater, not quite alive. Not that it shouldn’t be supported, but it belongs in essence to the Coney Island Museum. The museum (preserver, the museum has no seasons) should also have artist studios and theater labs for Vitrine Theater, but don’t confuse that with the full blooded variety.
Coney Island and theater is a special place at a special time. And as the state says about your driver’s license, it’s a privilege, not a right. If you drive under the influence of phony seasons, your Poetic License should be suspended. And if you have to get at job or join the other carnies in the latest scam for the “off-season,” don’t start the “O woe, I’m a starving artist and I have hole in my sweater” violin music. Nobody forced you to run off and join The Circus.
GAS, GRASS, OR ASS
Nobody Rides for Free
(Bumper Sticker in the Harley Davidson motorcycle store beneath Annex Theatre in Seattle)
Everybody with a Mr. in front of their name believes in capital “improvements.” Theater people should fight against having Mr. and such applied to them. By that I mean those traditional terms and conditions of respect and prestige, capital being the major one, but hardly the most dangerous.
Now for me, “it’s all rock and roll, baby,” and I guess I start looking a little stupid as I “mature” and don’t get a real job (although many of my day jobs are distressingly tempting in money and/or prestige). In fact I avoid “career choice” like some kid in a garage band trying to stay pure to his music and never sell out. Until it’s not even a virtue anymore, just habit.
Fill-in-the-blank Theatre is a pose before an aesthetic. An aesthetic before a way of life.
And when Robin Hood realizes that his steal-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor, all-night-rock-and-roll-in-Sherwood-Forest can no longer be his way of life because he’s become aware that somehow Arthur RAT [http://rat.whirl-i-gig.com] has snuck back into England and dethroned the evil John, and now Robin is actually a baron in the goodly ruling Kingdom… what then? Could life ever be that cruel?
If you start a motorcycle gang called Fill-in-the-blank Theatre, don’t cry in your beer if the only career you ever have is working for gas money as a Harley mechanic. If you are born to ride, go for it. What’s money got to do with it?
THE TOP TEN
Most-produced plays this season by TCG Theaters
- How I Learned to Drive, Paula Vogel (26)
- The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Alfred Uhry (20)
- Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, Moises Kaufman (16)
- Picasso at Lapin Agile, by Steve Martin (10)
- The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams (9)
- Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller (8)
- Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Emily Mann (8)
- The Old Settler, John Henry Redwood (7)
- The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde (7)
- Always…Patsy Cline, Ted Swindley (7)
One theater award, maybe even the ultimate award, is production.
Without belittling TCG or any of the playwrights in the above list (Williams, Miller, and Wilde are irreproachable as classics anyway), if this is representative of what “professional ” theater is giving regional audiences, there is something missing. I believe all of us are to blame for this. The above list is heavily subsidized by monies that could go toward another Top Ten of “professional” productions by playwrights with names like Jeffries, Jones, Wellman, Ehn, Margraff, Bucci, Moritz, D’Amour, Wochner, Furst. That’s ten so I’ll stop, but there are many more.
Also, why is there no A Christmas Carol listed in the above Top Ten? I count 26 productions of it in the October ‘98 season preview issue of American Theatre. That makes A Christmas Carol tied at Number One with How I Learned to Drive as the most produced show by TCG constituents. Even Jon Jory will adapt the Charles Dickens crowd-pleaser this season. I’m not being exclusive here, exactly the opposite. I would never suggest an Actors Theatre of Louisville production of A Christmas Carol should not be done, or is less “professional” than something produced on the fringe by me. I think I am only counter punching when I say that the need for TCG theaters to solicit grants, or scroogily produce A Christmas Carol to survive, shows they are every bit the amateur capitalist I am with my day job subsidy of the theater I produce. But where they seem ashamed, often hiding their subsidy, I take pride in attempting to achieve No More Box Office and that reciprocal gift called theater.
A Christmas Carol subsidizes the same way many of our day jobs in theater and elsewhere subsidize our real work, our RAT work. There is no gray boundary for me here. Two poles are represented. My life in theater demands that I walk as decisively as possible in the true direction whenever it becomes clear to me. My career in theater keeps me turning back around to see who is paying attention, who is paying. And so, I solicit an audience. I solicit press and box office. I solicit peers and criticism. I solicit attention from some Top Ten list, imagined or real, as everyone else does. But ultimately I beg, borrow and steal from my career to give to my life, not the other way around. Usually. Hopefully.
My peers and I are the muddle in the middle. In necessity we sometimes face in the direction of An Xmas Carol, but our dream and love and true work are elsewhere. Missing. We know the difference between a weak choice and strong choice because we have made both. Sometimes we gather in strength, sometimes we gather in weakness. The gathering is what’s important. We need leaders to pull us in the right direction, toward what is missing. Right now, for me, RAT is such a leader.
PRAYER TO AN UNKNOWN GOD
For chrissakes, slothful reader and audience, I don’t give a goddamn about our buried Christ.
My obsession is language and its capitulation to and symbiosis with our deadened lives. It’s the Real Thing ™ bought and sold. The temple is marketplace and there are only a few shopping days left before all is PR chat.
The rehearsed breath readies its speak. Wet word poised as deed on the lusty lip. I seek the tongue-tied Word as Flesh. I wish not to be understood, but known.
Theater speaks in tongues toward the Judas Kiss, great betrayer of all reality but its own. And as Genet said, betrayal is the greatest bestowal of love we know.
The time when we gather is not holiday or vacate-tion, but X marks the spot of buried treasure on the Pirate Map. The treasure is one more map, a calendar marked with holydays.
Theater is the Holy Fool who hangs his bauble amongst the tinsel of the Christmas Tree. The Silent Knight is Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright. K is the new ornament in the darkening sky the Wise Men follow to the Tree of Life.