Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Model (Draft) -- Part 2

As promised in Part 1 of this draft of a model theatre, the topic is now "The Artist in the Community." What I mean by this can be described best by taking apart a sentence in the previous post: "What does my community need right now?"

As a question, it sounds simple, but has several separate parts each with different, but conjoined, ramifications.

First, "my community" indicates that you are part of the community, and it is part of you -- no more Mysterious Outsider. Thus, the term "embedded." I know: the current connotations make me uncomfortable too, so let's try to disconnect them. I mean the broader definition of embedded: To cause to be an integral part of a surrounding whole. MY community means that you are an integral part of it, you claim it as yours, it emcompasses you. To some extent, this is a change from the modernist norm, which placed the artist outside of the community and valorized the perspective allowed by this disconnection. Here, you sacrifice perspective for detail, long shot for close up. This also means that the artist -- and I mean all of them involved in the theatre -- must live in the community they serve. No more drive-by performances. The artists should also be seen at the grocery store, the church or synagogue, the soccer field, the library, the voting site. They need to have a life that reaches beyond the rehearsal hall and makes contact with a diversity people with a diversity of perspectives. Artists have a tendency to live in gated communities where only those who are "in the know" and "one of us" live. As a result, their productions begin to lose richness, complexity, wholeness.

Second, the word "need" requires that you be connected enough to that community to recognize what it already has too much of, and what is lacking. You can feel it, you experience it in your heart. The word "need" is not the same as the word "want" -- usually a community will want more of what it already has and likes. Need requires balance. It is a dialectic: the artist in the community determines what the widely held thesis is and provides the antithesis with the goal of a synthesis. The artist supplies the yang to balance the community's yin. Oppositional complementarity. This is art as a thermostatis activity. I borrow this term from Neil Postman, who uses it in terms of education in his sequel to Teaching as a Subversive Activity, which he called (thermostatically) Teaching as a Conserving Activity. You set you thermostat to a certain tempertaure; its job is to make what is too warm cooler, and what is too cool warmer. As Postman writes, "A thermostat, in short, releases a counterargument." The thermostat does so not out of spite, not out of a spirit of criticism, but in order to achieve dynamic balance. So the artist is not solely focused on expressing a personal vision, but rather on serving the community's needs.

And finally, "right now" means there is no universal solvent, no single aesthetic that applies across time and space. You use the language that will have the greatest impact at that moment, the forms that will be most compelling at that moment, the images and metaphors that will have the greatest traction at that moment. The artist must become a master of as many languages and styles as possible -- he or she must have a sizeable artistic toolbox.

All of this pertains to the plays that are chosen, the stories that are told, and the relationships that are formed.

What's the slogan? Be here now.

1 comment:

oldphort said...

esp. read the section entitled "Commitment to Neighborhood Priorities"

(didn't know you were back 2 blogging, scott...happened to click the bookmark by mistake - and, voila!)