Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Great Post

Joshua James publishes an articulate and disturbing post on why theatre isn't sought out by the common man anymore. Hard to argue with him, I think. The next step: is there anything to be done?


John Branch said...

I confess I didn't read nearly all of Joshua James's post, so I may have missed something that ameliorates my disagreements. But I'm not sure a broader view of theater history supports his view. Yes, the English-speaking theater in Shakespeare's time was vital and robust and attended by all classes, at least broadly speaking. But I don't think that was true of the French neoclassical theater in the time of Racine and Corneille, or of German theater in the time of Kleist, or even of the English theater at the time of Shaw, Wilde, Granville-Barker, et al. To risk an oversimplification: Great theater doesn't depend on the centrality of theater to its culture. If you want to be part of something that's got the biggest following, it may be time to go in for pop music or reality TV or film.

Joshua James said...

The point of the post was such:

Theatre has become a luxury item for the wealthy.

It didn't use to be.

It hurts theatre when it's cut off from all classes that are not extremely wealthy.

I certainly admit to generalizing an entire sweep of theatre history, but the main point remains the same - common classes didn't read and theatre was their main source of entertainment, whether it was from a traveling troop or a homegrown company. And if you read my post, I did mention that the wealthy certainly had their theatrical indulgments, but that the power came from all classes.

I confess, I am a bit put off that you critized my post without reading all of it.

John Branch said...

Joshua: I apologize for not reading your entire post. I've now done that.

I think I'm just not as dissatisfied as you are with the state of theater today. I've found theater worth my time in every city in America where I've managed to get to it at all--among other places, Chicago, San Francisco, New York (where I now live), Atlanta, Los Angeles, even Dallas (where I used to live, which seemed to me to have a pretty precarious and fitful theater culture). I recognize that theater in America isn't as big and thriving, as rich and various, as it might be. The same might be said for dance, and various forms of non-popular music, and literary fiction, and yet I find much to reward me in all these areas. All of them may have become somewhat overspecialized, not easily accessible to the common man. But I'm not sure who this common man is.

Joshua James said...

I know I am one, and not simply because I'm from Iowa, originally. I think any show that charges a hundred dollars a ticket is leaving a large segment of the population out of consideration.

And while I have seen good theatre (as I admitted in my post) I think our level of craft isn't equal to the level of cost.

Puritan Bob said...

While I agree that theater is overpriced--along with shoes, cigarettes, a good meal, quality beer, NYC rents, musem "donations", and a myriad of other items both luxury and essential, I don't think it necessarily follows that theater is cut off from the masses. As far as I'm concerned the masses are cut off from reality. My reality is art and the difficulty questions art rasies (yes, pretentious but what can I do?) When a majority, however slim, of Americans vote to reelect Bush and make crap such as Pirates of the Carribean a top grossing film, you have to wonder if you want the common fucking man in your audience. The job of reeducating and acculturating the vast majority of Americans is vast. We've had 2 centuries of American history to develop an arts-loving populace but nothing but pop culture drek has gained much traction. Improve the common man, then let him see our theater.

Scott Walters said...

I do want them in my audience, and I will carefully examine what about "Pirates of the Carribean" has that is appealing -- and I don't think it is stupidity, or "Dude, Where's My Car?" would have been a hit. No, I think there is something else. And then I have to figure out how that "something else" transfers to the stage.