A friend of mine who has been reading this blog sent me this email privately. I received his permission to share it with you:
I've been thinking about a number of the issues brought up over the past week in your blog. Here are a few of my own thoughts that are, admittedly, not fully worked out yet. I think I will title it: "All We Know of God," when it is eventually finished. I believe that Geurge Hunka grossly underestimates the relationship between theatre and religion. I do not think we, as artists and audience members, can fully address the important questions until the nature of
this relationship is worked out.
Today, it is hard to believe that in ancient Athens an audience would spend a full day at the theatre, arrive at sun-up, see three full length plays (with one or two satyr plays in between), take a break to eat over the afternoon, and then return to see one last full-length comedy at the end of the day. What Greek audiences had that we currently lack in the theatre is a sense of religion. As I pen these thoughts I am reminded of the German poet Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, when he wrote: "let us be honest about it, then; we have no theatre,
any more than we have a God: for this community is needed." The suggestion inherent in Rilke's remarks is that the disinterest in theatre is a symptom of a larger societal disease. This disease is not merely a failure of our culture, it may be the failure of our art and religion to keep up with the monstrous moral crises of our time.
The playwright August Strindberg came to the same conclusion as Rilke, that theatre and religion were the two major casualties of modern civilization: "theatre, like religion, is on the way to being discarded as a dying form..." The feelings of purposelessness and destitution
present in the previous two remarks were also echoed by Arthur Miller when he said, "we have no real theatre. We have shows, which isn't really the same thing."
Given the current state of American theatre, I think we should ask one simple question: why write plays? Tennessee Williams gave his own reason for writing plays when he wrote: "Define it as the passion to create, which is all we know of God." In other words, the dramatic impulse (in its rawest and purest form) is the deepest instinct that we know and our strongest response to life itself- it is a religious impulse. However, in the theatre this instinct is wasted without an audience. For us to have a relevant contemporary American theatre, it is not enough to have important new plays, playwrights, directors, actors, designers and first-rate productions. We also need audiences that are aware of and responsive to the full implications of the plays;
otherwise there can be no real growth, community, or continuity (to use a religious term).
I'm afraid that I am not articulating my position very well, but I can't help but feel that it is the
inability to connect drama with religion that is at the root of many artistic and audience problems today.
I feel that 99% of the issues being brought up in your blog are merely symptoms of a larger problem. This is a problem bigger than NEA funding, new plays, the impact of cinema, or artistic integrity. In The Legend of Bagger Vance, the character of Junuh believes that the only thing at stake as he plays in the final golf tournament is public humiliation. His game only improves when he realizes what is really on the line: his soul. When the larger issue is corrected, the individual and smaller problems all subside. I feel that the theatre is at a similar crossroads right now- that we are not asking the right questions. The simplest question of all is: why do we or should we care? Why do we as a culture persist to write, perform, and attend plays?
Many people answer this questions with pretentious and cliche ridden diatribes that are either heady and cold or superficial and frustrating. Theatre is far too powerful a medium for us to avoid a bit of soul searching when devising an answer to this question.
My frustration with myself and others sometimes makes me wonder whether any of us ever truly devote serious and soul searching time to this question, perhaps the most basic and important question of all...
For my part, I would concur with many of Brian's thoughts, while perhaps defining "religion" to mean the philosophical-moral-ethical basis of our society. I have other thoughts about this that I will probably post later. But thanks to Brian for his contribution. Now, y'all be nice! He's my guest!