Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The New Guthrie Theatre

Over at "The Bleat," James Lileks takes a look at the new Guthrie Theatre and finds it wanting. Lileks does an amazing job showing us what seems to be an appalling building (I lived in Minneapolis for many years in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, so I know much of what he is referring to).

It is when Lileks examines the building in terms of the surrounding area that he makes, to my mind, his most insightful and damning comments (read the article and, more importantly, look at the pictures). He writes:

It’s every post-war cultural institution in the country: a spare and rational temple for the high cult of art. The only cultural antecedents are to the era in which the cultural antecedents were abolished. That’s what annoys me about the thing, really – aside from its inscrutable fa├žade, ham-fisted massing, coy little smokestack marquees and shuttlecraft bridge. This is where the city began: the waterfront, the falls, the mills. Washington Avenue, now in the midst of a remarkable rebirth, has a mix of old and new, but the new knows enough to defer to the old concrete giants, the stone-walled warehouses, the tumbled ruins. The old world was hand-made, brick by brick. It’s possible all the old mills and warehouses would have been made of blue glass if they’d had enough of the stuff. But would it have been too much to ask of the architect to make the Guthrie looked like it belonged on this ancient plot?

Lileks is talking about community -- about a building, which is symbolically the public face of the institution it houses, that refuses to be a part of the community in which it resides, that refuses to incorporate the community's (architectural) history into its view of itself. It was a building designed by a European architect (an import from outside the community, like the actors that the Guthrie employs) who had no understanding (or at least no respect) for the cultural context of the building. Instead, the Guthrie slams into the surrounding neighborhood.

What is sad is that, in some ways, this actually reflects the Guthrie's (and our own?) view of theatre's part in the community. It slams in, bringing "culture" to the unwashed and unsophisticated masses, without respect or understanding for where those masses came from, where they are, and where they are going. We expect them, like the building surrounding the Guthrie, to adapt to us. Take your dose of culture and like it. We know better, and these imported artists definitely know better than those of you who lack the global perspective necessary to truly be in the know.

It is an arrogance and lack of respect that alienates. It will be interesting to see whether the community actually fills the Guthrie, or whether it will come to sense the hostility embodied in the building and stay away.

1 comment:

oldphort said...

and so the rebuttal goes something like:

"we want to bring great theatre to our community - so we have to find the most talented theatricians possible to do theatre worthy of our community. They don't live here. We have to import them."

Sounds to me like an important part of community-based theatre (can we come up with a better name? "Community Theatre" is WAY too loaded...fraught with images of unprofessionalism and a penchant for badly-produced summer musicals on a run-down proscenium stage...) would be the mission to educate and train local theatricians.

We'll have "better" (read: "polished") theatre when we are better artists, ourselves.

I don't need a Nathan Lane to do "The Producers." Fuck it - I don't need to do "The Producers."