Monday, October 03, 2005

Regionalitis Part 3 -- Clarification

I fear the points I am making about "regionalitis" and artists being a part of the community may be being misunderstood. Alwaysabridesmaid writes:

"To suggest that artists cannot come from NYC to work in other communities because we cannot understand how to speak to them is to encourage provincialism in the arts. Actors and directors live in NYC because that is where we get work. We are so dedicated to a life in the theater -- creating it, not teaching others how to do it -- that we need to be where the opportunities are, even if that means not getting to live in the bucolic mountains.We also like to be around and learn from a truly diverse community, because that is how to really learn to make art.To suggest that we all insulate ourselves into small communities and only perform for each other? Means that your student production of the Bronx-set Marisol should not exist. You have a white woman playing Marisol, a fact which I'm sure would make Rivera cringe. Under your reasoning, you and the small, very white community in which you live and work could not possibly understand his work."

First, let me be clear: I am not suggesting that artists cannot come from NYC to work in other communities. What I am suggesting is that this requires acculturation -- the artists need to understand where they are. We generally condemn cultural imperialism in the guise of, say, the British creating colonies in Africa and forcing the native people to conform to their ideas regarding behavior, religion, and social mores. But this is often how NYC artists behave -- like they are going to come to the "provinces" and bring their culture with them, and the audience needs to bow to their greater sophistication.

Let's look at something like color in painting. Look at the use of color in painting done in NYC versus painting done in, say, Bermuda. The colors are different because the color of the place is different, and this is true even in painting that are not landscapes. If you want to instantly be identified as a tourist in NYC, arrive wearing a teal jacket; very quickly, you adapt to your surroundings, dressing in shades of black and grey. Why should this be any different than personal rhythms, worldviews, or interpersonal relations? Would Faulkner have written differently had he not grown up in the South? Would Emerson have sounded differently if he wasn't in New England?

Yes, I know that NYC is where the work is, but does that have to be the case? If we were a truly healthy theatrical community, wouldn't actors be able to live all over this country? And wouldn't that be better for the communities in which they live? When is it that we begin to value artists who live in our community? When is it that we stop looking to NYC to validate our work? Why is it that a wonderful production by a regional theatre only seems wonderful if it transfers to NYC? There is an old joke: "There is no God, and Jesus is His name." Well, to paraphrase: there is no national theatre in America, and Broadway is its name. It is time for the arts to grow up in our nation and become truly national. We are a huge country with a rich populace. It is time to stop thinking about anytyhing east of the Hudson as the "provinces," which is what you are saying when you say anything not from NYC smacks of "provincialism."

And yes, NYC is a more diverse community than Asheville, and that is wonderful. It is something that ought to be reflected in the art that is made there. And Asheville needs to relate to the diversity that is here -- and believe me, despite your lack of knowledge, Asheville is diverse. It has a sizable Hispanic population, and large number of Russian immigrants, as well as a sizable black population. But it isn't NYC by any stretch.

By the way, you are wrong about the woman playing Marisol -- her father is South American. You should be careful about jumping to conclusions in order to make a point. That said, I assume that when you do a play, you will cast according to strict racial lines. For instance, if you do Long Day's Journey Into Night, you will only cast Irish actors in the roles, and a production of Antony and Cleopatra will have an Egyptian Cleopatra. A question, though: even if we had only had white actors to play the roles in Marisol, would it have been better to have not done the play at all? Wouldn't that have opened us up to accusations of "provinicialism"?

I think you raise a valid point, though: did Marisol have anything to say to Asheville? It is a question I, as an artist, should ask myself. The answer may be yes, but the question must be asked nonetheless. That's the point I'm trying to make -- that because I live in the community that I am addressing, I have a better chance of answering that question than someone who sweeps in from somewhere else.

I am not asking you to leave NYC, nor am I dissing NYC theatre. I am suggesting that we need to expand our system of valuation to include other worlds than Manhattan.


Anonymous said...

I would also take issue with alwaysabridesmaid's assertion that we live in NYC because that's where we get work. In my (and mostpeople I know's) experience, we live in new york so that we can work for free so that we can get paid to work elsewhere.

oldphort said...

See, I thought that was more the case - I know a few working theatricians in NYC -- I know scads and dozens and ooodles of well-trained, talented theatricians who wait tables in NYC. (Between gigs - but, I ask you, is it "between gigs" when 90% of your time is spent closing checks?)

I made my living, solely, by doing theatre in Asheville for two full years. A baby and loving wife for whom I now must care has made this no longer possible -- but I am living proof that you CAN make a living (albeit a hand-to-mouth one) doing theatre anywhere in the US.

alwaysabridesmaid said...

Let me say first that the experience I am coming from is as an actor. The only people I know who are full time actors live in New York, Chicago, or LA.

Cheers to Old Phort for his pluck, but I don't want to do anything but act, and I don't think he made his living as a full-time actor in Asheville. Piecing together a career in any theatrical capacity is not my goal. I'd rather make $300 a night waiting tables "between gigs."

And who are you to judge how much time spent between gigs constitutes an artist's life? My having a day job when I'm not acting does not negate my existence, my MFA, my 10 years as a professional actress, any more than your day job to support your family negates your artistic merit. Be careful whose success you start judging, because you have no idea how your career is going to go.

I don't know at what level anonymous' friends work, but my union prevents me from ever working for free, unless it's a showcase, and even then I get a stipend.

Anonymous also misunderstood my point: I work mostly regionally, and I love it, but I am cast out of New York. The auditions I attend are in NY, so I must be there to get the work. I lived in Boston prior to that, and found that they would rarely take Boston actors seriously enough to cast them. They went to New York to find actors.

Frustrating, yes, especially because I love Boston and loved living there, but it is the reality, so I moved.

To address some of the points in this post:

I don't know who these snooty colonialist artists you're meeting from NYC, but that's not the attitude I bring or the experience I have of my fellow artists out of town. Most of us are not born and bred New Yorkers. We were raised in communities very similar to the ones we come to work in. I know no one who "sweeps in," but I do know we often have to waste precious rehearsal time overcoming the attitudes of the local artists we work with who assume we're going to be New York bitches. We're not. We don't think we're better than you. We're thrilled to be working, period.

Do I miss Ethiopian food? Occasionally. Do I wish the town in Maine I sometimes work in had cell phone service, a bar, or a grocery store that stayed open past 6? Sometimes. Would I give up working in these amazing communities doing these beautiful plays in exchange? No.

I trust that the people running the theatres I work for, who do live in the community, know how to speak to their community. I trust that they have picked the best plays and artists to fulfill their mission, no matter where they come from.

On the diversity issue: I have spent a lot of time in Asheville, and have seen very, very few non-white faces in theater audiences. Now, I have attended only a couple performances at the colleges -- it may be different there. But this is an issue in many places, not just Asheville.

On casting: Long Day's mission has very little to do with being Irish, Cleopatra is not a play about being Egyptian, but I don't feel that way about Marisol.

I also take exception to "There is no national theater, and Broadway is its name." It is extremely rare that a good play ends up on Broadway these days -- I think that is agreed upon across the board. Broadway is now for the "teal jackets," as you say, and is about money making, not about soul searching. (And I think you're being unnecessarily provocative by implying that I was saying anything not from NYC is provincial. I'm saying the idea of locking down little artistic communities that let no one in or out is the definition of provincial.)

Who are you looking to for validation, anyway, that makes you feel so slighted? My community, the artistic community in New York, looks far and wide for paradigm shifts in the theater. We spend a large amount of time talking about genius artists we have come across -- off-Broadway, in Vermont, in some weird workshop we took in a freezing castle in Bari, Italy.

Can I go to my high school reunion and talk about an amazing production of a Sophie Treadwell play I did in Tennessee and expect anyone to be wowed? No. They want to know when I'm going to be on TV again. But I'm not in theater to prove anything to them.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what alwaysabridesmaid is saying here (hi, same ole anonymous, btw). I was talking a large amount about designers and directors.

Most actors I know who work in NYC are union, and work on showcase level, and get paid almost nothing.The travel stipend is almost always waived, and the amount given in tiered showcases is little above a joke, or a nice thank you.

So this goes back to working in NYC for little to no money so that you can audition there and work elsewhere.

Let us not forget that one of the best ways to get paid is to go uber-provincial and work in academe.

BTW: AABM: where's your MFA from? did you think it was worth it? I go back and forth on them all the time.
Proves my point, really, I think.