Because I value Nick's observations, I spent some time last evening reflecting on his criticism of my tendency to occasionally use this blog for rants against the current way we create theatre in this country. I asked myself what purpose I thought such rants served, and whether I could put those reasons into words that would make sense to other people. Because I want this blog to be more than a place people come for entertainment; I want it to be a place where people come for inspiration, and for hope, and maybe for some guidance. And the more I thought about it, the more I found myself thinking back to when I was a senior in high school in 1976, and the effect that Paddy Chayefsky's brilliant film Network had on me. I thought about how electrifying the scene below was at the time. If you have never scene this film, please rent it; if you have and think you remember, I hope you will watch this scene in its entirety anyway to remind yourself of the details.
(Isn't Peter Finch great?) The importance of this scene was not in Finch's Lear-like, water-drenched rant, but rather in the last minute of the scene where William Holden's daughter opens the window to find that, one after another, people have come out of their apartments and are expressing their rage. And it isn't the expression of that rage that is central, but the fact that everyone on the balconies hear that other people share their frustration -- suddenly, they realize that they aren't alone, they are a part of a large community of hurt and angry people who don't want to take it anymore. And that's important.
It is important to realize that other people are equally frustrated with the fact that the current way of doing things forces people to work a full-time job and then choose between doing theatre or spending time with their children and/or their spouse. It is important to realize that other people resent having to leave places they love and move to New York if they want to be cast in the so-called regional theatres. It is important to realize that other people want to devote themselves to theatre, but have to do commercials and TV and film in order to make ends meet. It is important to realize that others are frustrated that they can't get their plays done on the stages of the regional theatres because those theatres are focused on Guthrie's 50+-year old classics.
That is why I encourage lurkers to stop lurking and express themselves in my comments box, even if it is just to say "I agree." This is why I created the Theatre Tribe discussion site so that people can join and connect with people who share their experiences and frustration.
There are some who will call this whining. They will tell us to suck it up and deal with it. But change only happens if people express the fact that the status quo isn't working, or isn't working for many people, or isn't working for you. We can't afford to keep losing intelligent, creative artists because the economics force them to make either/or choices about their lives. We should not only feel sorry for the Seattle actress Mike Daisey describes in his essay, but we should feel upset that the art form that we care so much about has been diminished by the loss of her talents, and the talents of thousands just like her.
Nick is right: it isn't enough to just rant, isn't enough to just express frustration. But it is the first step. It may be preaching to the choir, but sometimes you have to preach to the choir if you want them to sing. And sometimes the choir needs to hear all those other voices, the voices of the congregation, raised along with theirs to give them the courage to sing in a voice that is loud and clear and confident. And that's not whining.
There is one other moment in the Network scene that is important. It is the moment that immediately follows the opening of the window, when William Holden cocks his head in surprise when he hears the first voice raised in anger outside his apartment. Holden is an insider, and the frustration he hears being expressed is unanticipated. He didn't know that people felt that way.
One of the great things about the internet is the ease with which ideas can be spread. Seth Godin calls these "ideaviruses." You can cut and paste posts into emails and send them to other people you think might need to hear those words -- I urge you to do that. And you can send links to people you don't know, but who you think need to hear something -- I urge you to do that. If you know of a theatre in your town that is importing actors instead of using locals, send them a link to my post about this. If you want regional theatres to do more new plays, send them a link to a post about this. Use my blog, use my words, to be heard. Email the TCG at email@example.com and include some of Mike Daisey's words or my words or some other person's words, or use your own words, or a combination of all of those -- but raise your voices so that you are heard. Let people who can do something know what the problems are on the ground. Let them hear your experiences. Give them a chance to see the world from a different perspective, to empathize. The only way things change is if you communicate.
We're not powerless to affect change. Look at the theatrosphere -- ideas get picked up. commented on, they circulate from blog to blog. Suddenly, everybody is talking about My Name is Rachel Corrie or theatre tribes or the ethics of criticism. If it ends there, something important haas happened, but it need not end there. The next step is to communicate those ideas to people beyond the theatrosphere through emails or letters or phone calls.
So use these rants however you like -- for your personal catharsis, to form a link between you and others who share your feelings, to communicate your experiences to the powers that be. But use them. And use them to communicate.