[I]magine a perfectly level plain in a desolate land. In the foreground, an uneasy crowd of citiz3ens huddle together on the ruins of an ancient temple. Beyond them, a broken altar, bristling with artifacts. Beyond that, empty space. An emaciated priest in disreputable garments stands before the ruined altar, level with the crowd, glancing into a distorting mirror. He cavorts grotesquely before it, inspecting his own image in several outlandish positions. The crowd mutters ominsouly and partially disperses. The priest turns the mirror on those who remain to reflect them sitting stupidly on subble. They gaze at their images for a moment, painfully transfixed; then, horror-struck, they run away, hurling stones at the altar and angry impreccations at the priest. The priest, shaking with anger, futility, and irony, turns the mirror on the void. He is alone in the void.
Nice writing, huh? Maybe a little purple, but memorable and dramatic. My students really get the Theatre of Revolt from this image. My guess is that a lot of my readers will find this image of the modern dramatist really inspiring. The rebel outsider, the artistic priest in touch with Great Truth of Meaninglessness, the misunderstand and unappreciated loner howling in the wilderness. Self-absorbed, grotesque, angry, ironic, and wielding a distorting mirror. Oh, and significantly: alone.
One hundred and thirty years after A Doll's House, artists have gotten what they've wished for: they're superior and alone. The audience, who used to have few options when it came to narrative experiences, are now awash in them -- they ran away and never came back. Didn't need to -- they had three DVDs being delivered to their mailbox for less than $20 a month; they had millions of books, and audio books, and music available at the touch of a mouse. They had hundreds of channels providing non-stop entertainment for less than half of the price of a Broadway ticket.
If they think about that poorly-dressed and dyspeptic priest, and they rarely do, they give a derisive snort and dismiss him from their minds because they don't trust him or his vision -- they know his mirror is distorted.
Meanwhile, the priest continues to cavort grotesquely, wondering in the back of his mind where everybody went, and rejecting any suggestion that his antics have become irrelevant and his services unneeded.
MattJ, and all the theatre artists still young enough to not have their identity wrapped up in Theatre of Revolt ideology that gets off on "vacancy, bafflement, and accident," I challenge you to shake off this irrelevancy and make theatre something that is truly vibrant, imaginative, meaningful, stimulating, and most importantly, reflective of the 21st century and not the 19th.