Recently, Tom Loughlin posted a link to a a short video of director and Group Theatre co-founder Harold Clurman from the documentary Harold Clurman: A Life of Theatre, which coincidently I had just showed to the students in my Directing II class. I urge you to not only watch the snippet Tom posted, but to locate the entire documentary to watch, as it will provide your with inspiration and, perhaps, a renewed sense of purpose.
Clurman was a passionate believer in the power and importance of the theatre. He helped found the Group Theatre not because he was trying to promote his career, but because he felt strongly about what role a theatre ought to play in the American culture. If you watch Loughlin's clip, you can see how, at the age of 80, he still had the fire -- a fire that comes through most powerful in the moment that follows his condemnation of the mediocrity of our culture, when he says, with what seems to me red-rimmed eyes, "This always makes me angry."
Me too. Me too.
To me, Clurman ought to be a model for all young artists. And not simply because he was an excellent director who founded and important theatre, but because he had a strong sense of his responsibility to the art form as well. yes, he directed many important productions, but he also was a critic, an author, a speaker, and a professor at CUNY. The Collected Works of Harold Clurman, which sits on the shelf right in front of my computer, runs to over 1000 pages, and that doesn't even include his full-length books such as the inimitable Fervent Years. It wasn't enough that he just "do the work," he felt that it was important that he write about it, convey his ideas to others, work to advance the field. Aside from Tony Kushner, what contemporary artists are making a similar attempt?
Well, as far as I'm concerned, the answer is: the theatre bloggers. The majority of them are artists trying, like Clurman, to create worthwhile works of art. At the same time, they freely contribute their time to make sense of what is happening in the world of theatre, writing post after post, arguing with each other, theorizing and criticizing. Someone like George Hunka, for instance, has not only written and directed plays, but has also written erudite blog posts linking up contemporary theatre with the great thinkers and art works of modernism. Isaac Butler, Matt Freeman, and Don Hall contribute thousands of words each week. Newer bloggers, too many to mention (a few: Chris Ashworth, Travis Bedard, Bob Fisher, Ian Moss) bring their own insights into the conversation. And a few of us older academics -- Tom Loughlin, Andrew Sullivan, and I -- throw our oars in as well.
What often gets lost in posts such as David Cote's call to action is that this activity is a true contribution to the art of the theatre, a contribution made in moments stolen from lives that are already chock full of day jobs, art making, and everyday living. It is truly heroic, like Clurman's heroic life. And while from time to time things may get tired in the theatrosphere, and may not be as consistently insightful as some would wish, nevertheless these bloggers are the keepers of the flame. Most of the well-known theatre artists have abrogated this responsibility, choosing instead to focus on their own careers while feeling no responsibility to advance the field or to represent it to the larger society. In a time when the internet allows such artists to bypass the mainstream press and communicate directly with the world, most make no attempt to do so, leaving the field to flounder.
And so I take this opportunity to salute the theatre bloggers. Thank you for your work.