Almost twenty years ago, I dropped out of an MFA program because they kept me so busy with production that there was no time to think. I came to the program hoping to learn new ideas, discover new approaches, develop my own unique aesthetic within a larger context. But instead, I found myself stage managing, directing constantly, and learning "technique." I decided this was no way to become an artist, it was just the way to become another cog in the theatrical machinery.
Over at zayamsbury.net, I find that the non-thinking attitude is still prevalent. I a comment on an admirable post called "Teaching is Power," Lucas Krech writes: "What makes you good is doing it. If you want to be a writer write. If you want to be a director direct. Reading can’t teach you how to write, it can only teach you how other people write, except that writing is a process not a product, so reading only teaches you what other people produce."
Yes, you must practice your craft, but if every generation must reinvent the wheel, we are wasting an enormous amount of time and talent. Techniques have been discovered in the past that can be used today; ideas have been discussed in the past that still have validity today. Back in the day, artists served as apprentices, which meant that they watched how somebody who knew how to do something did it. Reading is another way of serving an apprentice.
High school theatre does a great disservice to young people: it puts them onstage and lets them figure it out themselves. The result: a bunch of undergrads with horrible habits. What is worse, all the high school kids’ adoring family surround them and tell them how wonderful they are, “better than what I saw on NY last year when I visited.” And of course, young people believe them. As a result, they think there is no real reason to actually LEARN about the art form — hell, they already know how to DO it. And who cares about the genuises of the past, I’m a genius already! The result: the theatre is filled with superficial and unpolished productions by people who think they know what they are doing. As Albert Williams writes in Chicago’s “Performink” newspaper: “if young dancers launched their careers with the same level of technique most young actors possess, they’d break their necks the first time on stage.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. But technique is only half the battle -- thought is the other. You should have something to say, and also the skill to say it effectively. One alone doesn't make it.
I wish there was a lot more care and a lot more thought put into production. If there was, maybe we'd get somewhere...