Friday, October 06, 2006

Engaging the Imagination

Matt Freeman provides some food for thought thanks to Bill Moyers and Bill McKibben about the connection between art, religion, and the environmental crisis in his post "Moyers/McKibben on Religion and Climate Change." I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Struggling with Choices (Matt and Ian)

Dear Readers (if there are any left after my prolonged absence):

My silence has been unavoidable, and is likely to continue with sporadic posts for most of October: my wife and I are moving on October 21st. We finally decided we couldn't take the isolation of our current house up on the mountain with its 35-minute commute (15 of which is uphill). We wanted to be able to have friends over, family over, students over and start to participate in a community.

However, I have been touching base with my favorite theatre bloggers over this time, and Matt Johnson's recent post "A Life's Work" has caught my imagination. One direction to take the discussion is looking back towards one's roots -- why one first was attracted to the theatre. Both Isaac and George have provided rich discussions of their own development, and while I am tempted to follow their retrospective lead, I want to respond to another strand of Matt's original post.

At the beginning of "A Life's Work," Matt mentions that his post was inspired by another post by Ian Belton at Culturebot.org entitled "My name is Ian Belton...duh." Near the end of Belton's discussion of his recent directorial work, and the directions he has gone as a result, he writes:

"To quote my CDP application, “I would like to create a synergy between my artistic pursuits and my career.” What I have learned in the past two years is that the energy it requires to perpetuate a career from “within” the theater is so great that it forces one into isolation. I would rather live and work “outside” the establishment so that I can bring things of value back to share. I’d rather take the risk of being forgotten by the community than become so self-absorbed that I am ignorant to the rapidly changing world.

I am not so juvenile as to say, “I am never directing another play ever again.” Nor will I bitterly proclaim, “I quit the theater!” I look back on my C/V with fondness . . . even a little nostalgia. Now, I simply want to find another way to earn a living so that directing plays is not my bread and butter. Then maybe it won’t be so precious. Maybe then I will be able to speak and listen with the clarity I found abroad."

It seems to me that these two paragraphs provide the fuel for Matt's thoughts, which end:

"I want to do the work that is important to me, and work with the people I can trust and who are passionate. I don't want to feel guilty because I have to work a day job everyday, as if I am at the mercy of the circle. We all must find a way to survive both in life and in art. The journey will be different for each. That's the nature of this life's work. I'm confident that I will find a way, even if I have to do it all on my own, to do the work I feel is important. And I hope I can find others to come along with me."

Perhaps I am misreading these two men, but what I think I see are two young artists trying to come to terms with what seems to be a gap between what brought them into the theatre in the first place, and what seems to be required of them in order to make a living doing theatre; between the motivation to create art, and the desire to make a living as an artist. The grizzled veterans may smile ruefully in recognition of their struggles. As Margo says in Applause, "Welcome to the theatre -- my dear, you love it so!"

But as a teacher, it is hard for to see this as a process of natural selection where those who are tough enough stick it out, and those who aren't don't. It seems to me that young artists like Matt and Ian are exactly the kind the theatre need right now -- artists who see the theatre as serving a larger purpose, artists who question the way things are done. From my perspective, the most painful sentence in Ian's piece is "What I have learned in the past two years is that the energy it requires to perpetuate a career from “within” the theater is so great that it forces one into isolation." And the most hopeful from Matt's: "I'm confident that I will find a way, even if I have to do it all on my own, to do the work I feel is important. And I hope I can find others to come along with me."

Caroline Myss, in her discussion of inner archetypes and elaborating on the ideas of Carl Jung, talks about one's Inner Prostitute, an archetype which she says we all have -- what part of our integrity we are willing to sell for something we want, whether it is success or security or simply survival? It is a question we all must confront. Ian answers it one way: "
I would rather live and work “outside” the establishment so that I can bring things of value back to share." He will follow the example of artists like T. S. Elliot (banker) and William Carlos Williams (physician) or even Ezra Pound (publisher) who did not rely upon their art to provide their daily bread. This gave them the freedom to remain true to their values and their vision. The trade-off is that their art was created in spare moments, and did not receive their full focus. To what extent did their art suffer because of that? On the other hand, how might their art have suffered had they felt the need to tailor it to the marketplace? Matt's determination is less clear than Ian's, but I sense a burgeoning Harold Clurman who may, like Clurman, inspire a group of artists to break away from the mainstream and follow a vision that he creates through his words and dreams.

Both alternatives have their plusses and minuses, but my point is that whatever direction Ian and Matt take, the theatre will benefit from their struggles as long as they keep their eyes focused on true north, their own vision of artistic vibrancy. It is my hope that both will continue to bring their insights and thoughtfulness and questions to an art form badly in need of all three. And I wish them the best of luck. I have little to offer by way of advice. I waffle between the two alternatives -- while rejecting a third: completely adapting oneself to the demands of the marketplace. That, it seems to me, is a waste of talent. There are many ways to make money in this world, and most are easier than trying to make money doing theatre. Theatre must be an end in itself, because extrinisic rewards are scant. How to face that dilemma seems to be the most important artistic we face at this point in history.