Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Model (Draft) -- Part 1

OK, here I go, responding to Brian's request for a Vision. I am going to start with the umbrella concept that permeates every other detail (and this will not be new to anyone who has read this blog in the past):


What do I mean by this? Do I mean that a theatre should only do plays about the community where it lives? Absolutely not.

What I mean is that some theatres -- the theatres I am creating a model for here -- would be a part of the community where they are situated, and should also form a community around themselves.


I believe there should be theatres that are "embedded." I choose that word because of its recent connotations with journalists who are embedded with troops in Iraq. An embedded journalist trades one thing in order to receive another. He trades away total independence in order to acquire an inside view; what he sees is, to some extent, controlled by the community within which he is embedded, but at the same time he sees aspects of the community that an outsider would not be allowed to see. Independent journalists are crucial to the world, as are independent artists/theatres, and I would not make embeddedness a universal aesthetic. Diversity of viewpoints is important to the wisdom of the group.


The central question of an embedded theatre is: "What does my community need right now?" Perhaps your community seems too parochial and it would benefit from seeing plays by playwrights from other cultures, or plays about other cultures. Perhaps your community has had an influx of immigrants and they would benefit from seeing a play that touches that issue. Perhaps your economy is in transition, and factory jobs are being sent oversees -- maybe you do a play that touches those issues. Perhaps your community seems too focused on money, and it would benefit from seeing a play about spirituality.

The key word in that last sentence is "too," and it is the most important word in the embedded theatre's lexicon. Such a theatre is situated to create a balance, to counteract tendencies that seem to be tipping too far out of equilibrium. This means that your theatre doesn't have a single ideology, but rather one that shifts according to shifts within the community.

This, in turn, affects the relationship between the community and the artist, which will the topic of the next installment:


Tom Loughlin said...

I've heard this stated in a different fashion - "All theatre is community theatre." Put another way, one can argue that the theatre of New York City is by no means a "national" theatre, but rather a theatre for the community of New Yorkers who live there. A good proportion of what is produced there would have absolutely no relevance to the residents of Wichita, Kansas.

I am one who regrets that the term "community theatre" has developed such bad connotations. Somehow we have to re-claim the term,and make it stand, not for bad productions of established plays, but for a theatre created, originated, produced and performed by the members of the community who have stories to tell. "Embedding" trained artists into such situations would yield a much more fertile and engaging brand of theatre than what we see now. -twl

Alison Croggon said...

Check out this essay, by Daniel Keene, about community theatre in France.

Joshua James said...

but which community?

Am I a new york playwright, or an American playwright or a world citizen playwright?

Are we not all members of a community with vast and differing commute times?

Scott Walters said...

You choose your community, and define it. It is the community that you have decided to "serve." Yes, we are all members of many communities, but that doesn't mean that our art serves them all equally. The more broadly you define your community, the more broadly you will have to define what it "needs."

Billy Cobb said...

Community theatre should strive to be rewarding for those who do and those who watch. Finding that balance is the golden ring.