Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Did We Learn Yesterday?

Over at "Never Trust Your Pet with the Devilvet," Bob has written about yesterday's blogslide about values in a post entitled "Talk Is Only Half the Battle."Most of the post is about encouraging more vigorous debate in the theatrosphere. As everyone knows, I haven't been one to steer clear of debate, although recently I have been trying to debate in a way that is more productive than the sort of slash-and-burn debates that used to happen in the past. I don't have time for pissing matches anymore, and I know for sure that Bob isn't suggesting more of them. So to Bob's request for an "Amen" concerning vigorous debate: Amen, Bob, preach it.

More importantly to me are a piece of the original post, and a comment connected to that post. Bob wrote, "Yesterday, I heard a few interesting things. I also heard an echo and echo and echo of tired things I've heard before." Then he wrote in the comments: "What good was yesterday if all we do is reaffirm and recite? Yes, it might give us (lot of us and them talk yesterday) a momentary thrust of catharsis...I want more!"

He's right -- what good was yesterday if we don't do more than just say our piece? When I read all those who contributed, I started seeing a common thread. While Bob may feel this is something he's heard before, nevertheless there seemed to be common agreement about one thing: one thing that sets theatre apart is presence, a sense of being in it together with the audience, dialog, community, call it what you will but it is all pretty much the same thing.

So what is the next step, the action step? Well, I hate to risk glibness, but walk your talk. All of you who are artists, look at the work you are creating and ask yourself: does this really take full advantage of what I feel is most unique about the theatre? If not, is there a way I could add something to the event itself that would bring it closer to my ideal? It's like a mission statement -- you use it to make decisions about what opportunities to take advantage of and which to let go. I think if we all did that one simple thing it would change the face of the theatre. If we all made sure that what we believe to be theatre's value was at the center of the theatre we actually create, then at least our elevator speech would parallel what was actually happening in our theatres. Without that, yesterday truly was an empty event, wasn't it?

15 comments:

GreyZelda Land said...

To put a positive spin on what we learned and what action was took ... so many of us wanted to get involved in this discussion. If this cyber round table can continue, weekly say, I think it'll really start bringing together that sense of community that has become more and more obvious on the theatrosphere in the last few months. This is something that needs to be strongly encouraged. Lift every voice, even if it's the written one. It's bringing us together in a way, on a daily basis, that is helping to form what we're doing on the "action" level.

I'm currently directing a show with 15 actors in it. I mention our website now and again, but, last night, one of our actors, who is also a director, mentioned the Off Loop Freedom Charter and is incredibly excited about it, so ... you never know who's out there and who's waiting to get on board.

And, yes, this might be so much cheerleading, but the "catharsis" and "good feeling" is something we should continue to chase because with that energy, the results will start happening.

Boy, this sounds like I'm blowing bubbles and chasing butterflies right now. ;)

RZ

Ian Mackenzie said...

Totally agree RZ – well said.

I'm here to support my colleagues, not chop them down when they stand up.

I have a pretty short fuse when it comes to the "talk is just talk" brushoff.

And there are plenty of productive ways to challenge people's arguments without belittling them.

Scott, ever have a student that asks you a question, doesn't listen to your answer, and then tells you you're wrong?

I'll be spending my time at blogs that encourage productive debate – like this one here.

Devilvet said...

Well, Ian I dont know if that is a dig at my blog...maybe...if so...so be it...I'll practice the thick skin I preach

To disagree...to question the value of catharsis for catharsis sake...to wonder what is the next newer step...

To express dissatisfaction...
To say 20 push ups is not enough...

I have said something much more that 'talk is just talk'...

If that is all you got out of my post, then I hope we can still be friends. You cant always agree with your friends. They better than anyone other than family are the ones who can see and say "Hey, you got something stuff in your teeth" rather than "Beautiful Smile"

Simon said...

Wow. This again. When did it become a prerogative of this community to tell anyone else that their ideas are invalid or unsubstantial? I disagree with the ideas of other bloggers all the time but where would I get the entitlement to tell them to change their methodology to suit me? We're all invested in theatre as it fits our own personal definition, one that is constantly evolving, as any long-term reader of Theatre Ideas can attest to. I want to hear your opinions and how you practice them, and my process is informed just as much if I disagree with you as if I think we're in the same cozy nest. There's as much value in watching bad theatre as there is for watching great theatre for practitioners, but not for audiences. We in the theatreweb are practitioners. And when it comes to our art, none of us are 'wrong', or 'misguided'. We're in process. This is a forum to discuss that process, and support it.

Paul Rekk said...

Personally, if someone (especially a practitioner) thinks my ideas are invalid or unsubstantial, I'd like them to tell me. Sure, odds are I won't agree, but when none of us are 'wrong' (a point with which I agree, Simon), we learn as much from discovering what others find idiotic as what they find brilliant.

Now, even on the points on which I disagree with Scott, invalid and unsubstantial are not terms I would ever link with his ideas. However, if I did, I would hope (and do believe) that Scott, knowing my respect for him and my equal respect for dischord, would realize that in expressing dissent, I would not be telling him to stop. I would be telling him that, from my eyes, he's wrong -- which doesn't much matter, because he's not working from my eyes.

There ain't nothing wrong with support, but it gets pretty blah all by its lonesome. I much prefer opinion, which not only encompasses support and dissent, but can (surprisingly enough) also be accomplished intelligently.

Paul said...

I'm not saying that a single viewpoint, concept, or philosophy that is being espoused by all y'all is not both true and valid.

What I *am* saying is that it's all an intellectual exercise until it's actually put into practice.

And that's a big part of what's turned people off from non-profits across the board: so many people asking for resources of all kinds, so few people showing that their plan has legs. Folks think we blow smoke up their ass and, as such, are turning away in droves. The ones who have succeeded are the ones that can consistently show-and-prove their value.

So keep talking, please. The ideas are still getting hashed out. I get it. But eventually, a tire's gotta hit the pavement or else this discussion is yet another exercise in navel-gazing and/or self-congratulation.

Scott Walters said...

What is interesting to me is the distrust we have about thought-with-no-action, but I'd like to draw our attention to the much more common, and to my mind much more destructive problem in our contemporary theatre: action-with-no-thought. I would really like to know where all this navel-gazing and self-congratulation is going on, because all I see are a whole lot of people running like squirrels on a treadmill churning out show after show with little more thought than getting the show up in the usual rehearsal period following the usual rehearsal template and marketing with the usual techniques! But who complains about that? (Well, besides me.) Sure, somebody's got to eventually try something out, but this get 'er done mentality does little beyond assuring that the status quo will continue unchanged.

Simon said...

Paul(s)-I absolutely agree with you, this community should foster debate, which will inevitably lead to discord, on the blogs and within our companies, this is fair play. One of the enduring fundamentals of theatre in general is challenge. I'm talking specifically about those bloggers who have shown the propensity to slide from civil contention into personal ridicule. Which has nothing to do with the thickness of one's skin.

GreyZelda Land said...

" ... people running like squirrels on a treadmill churning out show after show with little more thought than getting the show up in the usual rehearsal period following the usual rehearsal template and marketing with the usual techniques! But who complains about that? (Well, besides me.) Sure, somebody's got to eventually try something out, but this get 'er done mentality does little beyond assuring that the status quo will continue unchanged."

Yes.

The trick for the bloggers in Chicago, specifically, is to get off the competition mill and start spending some time making these proclamations work. And, I am with you, Scott, in that you can't do it alone. I know that everyone's talking about their season and what they're going to do next and there is rarely time to form the collaborative, explorative effort.

After our company finishes with The Skriker on May 10th, my coartistic director and I (we're married) are going to take time to prepare and have our first baby and, in that time, I'd like to really figure out what's next for us on the theatre front. I'd like to start exploring and discussing and experimenting with some of the ideas talked about on the various blogs because we're not going to feel pressured to produce our own, private shows with our company. In fact ... I'm not sure what's going to happen with the company because we don't have members who want to step up and take over for us during the downtime. And, that's ok ... we tried to form a tribe, but stepped forward as the leaders from the get-go and everyone else was fine with going along with that. We encouraged and offered, but ... people have their own agendas.

I'm going on here, it appears.

But I'm game to start an experiment. But, to truly do the experiment, we all need to be able to set aside some of our personal goals and plans and start collaborating with each other.

I'll be curious to see what happens behind closed doors with the various egos, minds and visions ... can this be done? We'll only find out when we haul off and do it.

RZ

Devilvet said...

Scott,

"I would really like to know where all this navel-gazing and self-congratulation is going on, because all I see are a whole lot of people running like squirrels on a treadmill churning out show after show with little more thought than getting the show up in the usual rehearsal period following the usual rehearsal template and marketing with the usual techniques!"

Maybe we are both coming at the same thing with different angles.

I agree that people are not changing what they do and how they do it when it comes to production, I think (god help me people are going to hate this)...that the value talk the other day reinforces that. That people are too busy justifying how we got where we are that they cant even think about new ways new venues. Or that they are very comfortable reading about new ideas, just not so comfortable actually doing them. That is where I see the self congratulations. Not everyone's intent is to enable change...but those who do adopt that intent...must evolve beyond the hypothesis...no doubt incorporate the hypothesis, but move beyond it...incorporate your thoughts on value but then move beyond mere thought.

Action must happen, let the action be informed by thought...

Thought without action? That is the navel gaze. Perhaps it is too soon to say that the 'value talk' was nothing by that, but I will raise my voice and say...dont let that happen...one shouldnt be satisified with one's on intent, or even one's own actions. It is our results that will justify any hot air we blow out.

We've been talking about this stuff for 3 years now...how much longer do we have to talk before we have specific failures/successes to point to? Another 3 years, another 5,10? You're 50 like you said...

-dv

Paul Rekk said...

From RZ: "But, to truly do the experiment, we all need to be able to set aside some of our personal goals and plans and start collaborating with each other."

From dv: "I agree that people are not changing what they do and how they do it when it comes to production, I think (god help me people are going to hate this)...that the value talk the other day reinforces that."

Maybe I've just been approaching it differently, but I'm a little discouraged by all this talk of changing our techniques through theatre. I thought we were trying to change theatre through our techniques. Maybe this is where I get frustrated with the bloggy talks of late -- I'm not looking for ideas to co-opt, I'm looking for ways to incorporate the ideas I already have.

GreyZelda Land said...

P. Rekk -

I definitely understand that ... and you're starting up a new theatre company to do just that, but I think there's a point that some of us (me, for example) have gotten to ... I've been saying my own truth for a while now, but now I'm ready to start joining these efforts together and am ready to start a give and take with other theatre companies. We can't all go into something with the "I" mentality or else it's going to be a lot of heads and egos bashing together. If you're looking to do your own thing, awesome. I just think that some people (again, me) are looking to start something that's bigger than myself and my own group of people.

And, again, I don't know if it's possible. I may end up doing what I've been doing for the last few years and put up a season to my taste and sensibilities that my people want to do.

But, now I have time to stop and challenge my predictable sensibilities and see what else might be out there.

RZ

GreyZelda Land said...

And, additionally ...

I know you want to see your own plans in action. God speed.

But, a lot of us are talking about going past just the mission, just the art and getting down to the brass tacks of running a theatre to the best of our efforts and abilities. When you put up your first season, please let us know how everything goes financially for you ... we all started in that same place - having ideas that were new and wanting to share them with people. That, thank goodness, is the easy, satisfying part. The part I'm interested now is sustaining it and making it continue to reach people and I do agree with Scott's idea of tribe ... I just think it would be interesting to see what all of our heads and experiences could create and move forward with.

RZ

Paul Rekk said...

Yow... if you think I'm egotistical, you're free to come out and say it. (I half kid.)

Collaboration's awesome, but it works best if everyone comes with an idea they think is great, not an idea that they'll work with what others come up with -- that leaves us no better off than everyone's "I" mentality. I'm afraid I'm just having none of this happy smiley let's make a community talk. To my mind collaboration works better if there's a goal beyond "let's collaborate", which more often than not leads to a muddle of half-formed ideas.

Butting heads and egos, when done properly, is underrated.

There's nothing bigger than "myself and my people" aside from "myself and more of my people" ad infinitum until "myself and all people".

Sorry the above is such a scattershot of ideas, but I got a slight sense of a pat on the head there and this is me a bit riled and butting heads. *winky face*

GreyZelda Land said...

P. Rekk -

I think we're all egotistical and that's part of the problem - we're in theatre after all ... you gotta admit you like your ideas and what you have to say. I'm not saying that's a bad thing ...

What I am saying, is that you have to be willing to leave some of that ego and your own personal agenda at the door to serve the greater good ... whatever that may be - that's what I'm trying to figure out.

I have my own aesthetic, shows I want to do, things I want to say ... but, again, I'm just curious if people would get together and verbally strong arm their opinions in the group or if we could get together and start saying, "Yes, and ... "

Or is there a combination of the two that can be achieved?

I'll always butt heads, but I'm not trying to prove that I have a bigger rack. *winky face back*

RZ