Isaac, commenting on the previous post, asks "What are your thoughts, Walters?" I suspect that this question arises because most of my previous post was a link and a quote. But let me respond to that question in a broad sort of way.
To put it bluntly: I'm mad as hell. I am 48 years old, I have a doctorate in theatre history, and I have read a LOT about theatre over the 30+ years I've been doing theatre. Anyone who has taken a class with me, and anyone who has read this blog, knows that I believe that artists should be part of their community, and have a responsibility to improve that community through their art. Over and over, I have engaged in knock-down, drag-out battles with other bloggers about these issues.
So what am I mad about? Because despite all my reading, it wasn't until last summer when I attended a conference on Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed that I found out that there was an entire field out there of people who shared my orientation: community-based, grassroots theatre people. I am willing to admit that this oversight may be my own -- it is possible that I simply ignored references to this large and dynamic group of theatres and theatre artists. But I write Instructor's Manuals for several prominent Intro to Theatre and Theatre History textbooks, and while I remember contemporary ethnic- and sexuality-focused theatres mentioned in these textbooks, I also seem to remember that most of them are NYC based. What about the rest of the country? What about theatres like Roadside Theatre and Carpetbag Theatre, both of whom have been producing theatre since the late 1960s and early 1970s? Why has theatre history always been focused on the NYC scene?
At the end of the film Whale Rider, the grandfather prays to his granddaughter, who has just been revealed as the new prophet, "I am a fledgling new to flight." That is how I feel right now, as my middle-aged mind tries to catch up with decades of history and theory that didn't enter my consciousness. I had come to reject the NYC-centric view of theatre, but I was so stuck that I didn't see that there already existed an alternative that was brilliant and strong.
A 2004 Gathering of leaders of this movement, which took place without my even knowing it about 15 minutes from my home in Asheville, NC, discussed the need for the dissemination of information about this approach to theatre. I have taken that directive to heart, and I am using this blog to alert my readers to the work of these impassioned, creative, and caring artists. Meanwhile, I am personally trying to absorb all I can by reading the hundreds of articles on the Community Arts Network website, and the books that are listed in the bibliography of the Gathering's final report. And I am trying to communicate to my students that there are other ways to live one's life as an artist, and that the NYC-centric myth is just an ideology.
Most of the great playwrights of the past have written for a specific community. The Greeks crafted plays for a very specific group of audience members; the medieval mystery plays were written and performed by the members of the community; Moliere wrote for Louis XIV's court, and thew Restoration playwrights made a career out of thinly disgusing the courtiers of Charles II's court in their plays; the best plays of the Abbey Theatre, and of Synge, O'Casey, and Yeats were those written about their fellow Irish. But somewhere we grabbed onto the misbegotten idea that art is "universal," and that it doesn't really matter who is in the audience, and it doesn't really concern us whether what is written speaks to those people, or is what they need to hear at that moment -- playwrights write "for the ages."
Well, personally, I have lost interest in that ideology. And I am excited beyond measure to find myself, like Dorothy after her house crashes into Oz, exploring a new world that has assumptions and ways of doing things that are very, very different from where I come from.
And those are my thoughts, Mr. Butler!