I am a believer in the Biblical injunction "to whom much is given, much is expected." I heard this value spoken again by Michele Obama last Friday when I attended an Obama rally on campus. There was such a sense of one's responsibility to one's community, and one's responsibility to use your talents to better the place where you came from, or the place you have adopted as your own. That's what I think an artist should do.
Last night, I finished my semester-long course on the Hero's Journey in Film and Literature that I teach at prisons located around Asheville. I was very touched when the inmates used their own money to make me a birthday "prison cake" -- an incredible concoction made by squashing together a Little Debbie Honey Bun, a Snickers Bar, several packets of crushed Oreo cookies, and maybe something else I wasn't aware of. It was the best birthday cake I've ever had, because it really required a sacrifice from the inmates, who had to buy the ingredients from their tiny pay.
Anyway, the last part of that hero's journey follows the ordeal, a final challenge that the hero usually has to face alone and that tests everything he has learned along the way. Once the ordeal has been experienced, the hero returns to his community bearing the treasure, which is often the treasure of newfound wisdom. The hero then heals his community using that new wisdom. That's what I think an artist should do as well, and it is what I hope that the inmates will do. We have tried, over the semester, to explore how their experiences in prison could benefit their community -- what new strength they've developed, new values they've adopted, new confidence they've grown. Many of them will be going home soon, and will face all the roadblocks that we as a society put in front of people who have paid their debt to society -- roadblocks that make the pursuit in Les Miserables look like hide-and-seek. They will need their newfound wisdom in order to stay strong.
I have been writing this blog for two-and-a-half years now, and during that time I have tried to contribute to my adopted community, the theatre community. I have tried to figure out a way for theatre to be more geographically diverse, more central to our country's art scene, more sustainable, more responsive and responsible to society. During those years, I have spent a large part of my time arguing with bloggers from New York and Chicago. When I check my statistics, I see that, indeed, many of my readers are from New York and Chicago, but there are also readers from around the country and around the world -- readers that I rarely hear from. Perhaps they are reluctant to join a conversation that seems so contentious, so polarized. And as much as I wish they would chime in and bring their different perspective to the conversation, I can understand their reluctance.
I have used this blog, especially during the past five months, to develop my ideas about theatre tribes. I have floated the first drafts of ideas to see what needed to be clarified, fine-tuned, or scrapped entirely. It is now time to truly focus on the development of those ideas. It does not serve my purpose to continue scrapping with the usual bloggers about whether the theatre tribe idea will work -- I know it will work; or whether it is worthwhile -- I know it is worthwhile. I am wasting my time, and I don't have any to waste.
Despite being filled with progressive minds, theatre is currently a conservative art form -- conservative in the traditional sense of clinging to the past and resisting the siren call of the new. We currently have centralized theatrical power in a few places, and we know from other situations that those with power rarely give it up freely. While I have nothing against New York or Chicago, I believe the future of the theatre lies in geographical diversity, sustainable values, and a local focus, and the need to constantly address those two cities on this blog is wresting my focus from where it ought to be.
The discussion will continue, however, just not here. There are currently 64 people who have joined my Theatre Tribe website at Ning, and I have been neglecting them all while I scrap with others. It is time to focus on those who are interested in exploring these ideas, rather than those who are focused on knocking them down in the interest of "strengthening" them. If you are interested in joining this community, click on the badge in the right column that says "Join Theatre Tribe."
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I have enjoyed this conversation, but we all know that I have started to repeat myself, and have the same argument with the same people over and over. Even I am bored with it by now.
It is my hope that the theatrosphere will move beyond its current obsession with self-promotion and become a place that can contribute to the exchange of serious ideas in the theatre world, so some serious self-reflection rather than pointing fingers at the public. No, my departure isn't due to Don Hall and Bob Fisher (dv), but rather over the past few weeks the conversations with them have revealed to me that I have gone as far as I can in this forum. I've passed "leave them wanting more," and now I have reached a point where Nick sighs in my comments box.
I leave the door open a crack for a future return, should I feel the need. But right now, I am headed for Ning, and for the quiet of my study as I try to complete this book on the theatre tribe idea.
Good things are happening. I have been in conversation with Mark Valdez of the Network of Ensemble Theatres, and with Bill O'Brien of the National Endowment of the Arts. I have been invited by Mike Daisey to participate in the Sunday discussions following How Theatre Failed America (I don't know whether that will work out or not).
Things are changing in the American theatre, and that is exciting. I'll be helping them along off to the side. If you need to contact me, I am at walt828 at gmail dot com.
Good luck, and keep talking!