Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Herbert Blau in 1964 -- Psychic?

"For, my dear colleagues in art. let us face it: the biggest impediment to the growth of theater throughout America has never been, as the cry goes, economics or stultified communities, but the timorousness and self-deceit of people in the theater who are always deploring lack of subsidy and want of opportunity to do 'meaningful things'; who dram of companies 'like they have in Europe.' but wouldn't go beyond New Jersey to find one; who are tame, submissive, and even ignorant of the way their art, often never practiced, has been debased in this country; who let themselves be humiliated and humiliate themselves before the meat merchants of casting offices; who, prey of agents, prowl the studios and seek out showcases rather than create stages in places all over the country that would wlecome them; who drift away from meanigful opportunity when it confronts them because it doesn't pay enough or because it looks impossible or because the new is really intimidating or because surrender seems more profitable; who take one quick shot at it, and then surrender; who are not artists because they have forgotten to think as artists, or never did. Many know they have sold out, and they follow the normal recourse of the delinquent in blaming their delinquency on the conditions that prevail, thereby impacting the conditions. Some, deferring to the fact that at some point theatre is business, put it into premature collusion with big business. Some, conviced it is a business and chiefly a business, are available at a price for any show, converting what are sometimes rare skills to the most corrupt ends, of which even the spirit of their union -- whose protection, as mere jobbers, they really need -- wouldn't approve. Some, who really have the welfare of the theater at heart, desire to make it a civic venture before they make it a civic need, not to mention a primal artistic impulse in themselves. Either they start a project pretentiously and fail dismally, or more frequently they abandon it at the first resistance or earliest 'better' opportunity. What has kept America from creating a significant theater up to now is that our talented people, and they are legion, have never stayed together long enough to do so." (italics in original)

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"We all of us need to rid ourselves of the idea that what we do in the provinces is mere biding of time, a training ground for a tryout for the Metropolis; and that our primary function is to serve up to the community, by making plays available, what the community already has elsewhere."

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"Because there aren't that many jobs available yet, we have the immediate task of getting theater people to behave like artists instead of drugged pigeons in a chicken coop. There was a time when it seemed both brave and necessary to go to New York. Actors had to have actors to play with. I have pointed out that there were always theatres around, but let us say they were too inept or the actors overlooked them. Now, however, a few decent theaters are clearly there and new resources are at hand. True, none of these theaters have the reservoirs of talent it needs, and thus it is no revelation when somebody writes that the regional theaters don't have casts to match those on Broadway. Given all the talent congested there, no wonder. First things first: the talent must move. We must attract it by offering a drive and a sense of audacity that is not true of the theater they have known. Young people coming out of the universities must be told squarely that even the absence of salary -- which, yes, we all deserve it, though it may not be there right away -- is not sufficient reason for yielding their art to the rat race.
Let them take jobs, let them be apprentices (they;ll wind up doing it, fruitlessly, in summer stock); if they don't like what we have done, let them create their own theaters -- there are places all over the country ripe for them. But let them not wait for the system to accomodate them when, after making their rounds, they are already deformed."

Herbert Blau -- The Impossible Theatre: A Manifesto (1964)
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