Friday, January 22, 2010

A Reminder

The drama's laws,
The drama's patrons give,
For we that live to please,
must please to live.

--Samuel Johnson


Mark said...

[An email exchange, just now.]

Me: And who's Samuel Johnson?
99: Just some old guy...right?

Scott Walters said...


malachy said...

Ironically, I believe Johnson is considered to have written one of the most unsuccessful plays ever, IRENE.

Too experimental?

Mark Schultz said...

I think a bit of a minor corrective is in order, courtesy of our friend Emerson: "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius."

Am very much enjoying the discussions here.


Scott Walters said...

Oooh! The Enlightenment versus Romanticism in a cage match for the ages!

A while ago, I wrote about "polarities," which are oppositions that cannot be resolved, but must be kept in dynamic tension which, with close attention, can avoid the negatives of each. I think the tension between individual artistic vision and the reaction of the audience is just such a polarity. Unfortunately, at the moment we have two sides of the issue both dipping into the negative. On the one hand, playwrights are using the audience as a scapegoat, insisting that their personal vision (as exemplified through "formal experimentation") is sacrosanct; artistic directors, on the other hand, fear the audience to such an extent that they are reluctant to take risks. Each needs to be moderated.

Mark Schultz said...

Scott, Yes! I totally agree.

I think what's often forgotten is that the Audience - Individual/Vision tension is necessarily creative. That friction is begging to be played with: if I give a little here and push a little there, what does that do to the play? If I play off this tension to create massive amounts of friction, am I creating more heat than light? Is more heat and less light needed? And on and on.

I think if this tension is seen as an opportunity for play, then an audience has a potential to become a real co-conspirator in the event. And what's produced is engagement which, I think, is really what we're talking about when we talk about entertainment or pleasure, even though sometimes engagement is not always so much fun. It is, however, always necessary.

In the process of navigating this tension, though, we have to admit to ourselves that we are our first audiences. We have to be pleased first before we can ever hope to please someone else. Sometimes, however, we are not the best audience members, even for our own work--we can tend to be either hyper critical or far too indulgent. I know I've done both in my work. At the risk of sounding a bit too mystical, I think the solution has to do less with what I want, or with a consciousness of what an audience wants, and more with what a play needs. Of course a play springs from a writer's vision and is informed by the world/times/culture in which s/he lives, but over time, through a combination of chance and intention, the play begins to accrue to itself its own logic, its own center of gravity, its own hierarchy of values, sometimes despite the conscious desires of the writer. Sometimes that logic needs to be challenged. Sometimes it's flawed. Sometimes it needs to be followed to its inevitable conclusions. But it cannot be ignored. Someone said that true freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want, but the ability to do what is necessary. I think that writing a play that engages both audiences and myself involves making the gesture the play necessarily demands in order to have the greatest emotional impact. Anything else runs the risk of pandering on the one side and pretension on the other.

(The secret in all of this is that the necessity of the play is a crystallization or specific instance of the encounter between the writer and the world, the artist and the audience!)

But I've rambled on enough!