Perhaps the most direct attack came from Matt Freeman, who said his response to posts like mine and Tom Loughlin's is "write your own plays." He goes on:
If you don't see something to enjoy in the plays being written today, that doesn't mean you are excluded. It just means that today's playwrights don't speak to you. There are lots and lots of plays that will, or have, I'm sure. Be patient, read the things you love, and stop prescribing your taste to other people.Plays aren't written to order. I read the frustration in posts like these, and I understand it. But there's only really one solution if you feel that a certain play that should exist that does not already. Write it.I have to admit that this made me angry, and I responded that way, and it still does annoy me somewhat. But Matt and I disagree on the role of the artist in society. Matt sees art as about self-expression, and I see it as contributing to the creation of a healthy society. These orientations are not mutually exclusive, but they do lead in different directions.
In the midst of what was developing into a semi-nasty spat, Mac Rogers interjected with a comment that brought me up short. He wrote:
Scott, "write it yourself" has been your recommendation on many occasions. You have written numerous times about how the arts need to be freed from an artificially defined professional class and given back to the people. What follows are your words:As Shakespeare might have said (perhaps in a W. C. Fields voice), "Hoist on my own petard." Mac Rogers is right, and so is Matt. While I could spend days and days marshaling arguments about why playwrights ought to care about the audience, and about reaching a diverse audience -- in fact, I have spent days and days...no, years and years making such arguments -- ultimately I need to take the Buckminister Fuller quotation on my blog seriously and, instead of "fighting the existing reality," I need to "build a new model that makes the old model obsolete."
"I want people to tell their own stories, instead of relying on TV to tell them for them; I want them to sing their own songs together, instead of buying a CD; I want them to dance together, instead of watching dancers. And I want the ideology that says that you can only do an art if you can do it as well as the 'professionals' to stop. The number of people who blush and say, 'oh, I don't sing' is disturbing."
You spoke on your blog about how the couple who didn't understand the Wallace play may well have lived through some of the same circumstances presented in it. By the lights of your argument above, that couple could, in collaboration with one another, write a new play that serves as a corrective to Wallace's. They have the life experience, and the arts belong to everyone.
Why should the people who are writing plays now change what they're doing? The true battle, as I've understood from your writing in the past, is to exhort the rest of the people to rise up and write their own plays, informed by their innate authenticity and lived experience, and displace the artsy frauds.
You and Freeman have made the same argument, it seems to me. Arguing that the people who currently identify as playwrights should change what you perceive to be their attitudes and behavior weakens that fundamental argument.
Actually, this model has already been built and tested out by people like Robert E. Gard, Alexander M. Drummond, Alfred Arvold and Frederick H. Koch, all of whom set up highly successful programs in the early- to mid-20th century to encourage and teach people in New York, Wisconsin, Alberta, South Dakota, and North Carolina to write and produce plays about their own experiences. Gard founded the Wisconsin Idea Theatre, Koch the Carolina Playmakers, Arvold the Little Country Theatre. Many of these men are now largely forgotten -- how many theatre people ever hear about them during their theatre history courses?I certainly never did -- yet they made an important contribution to the development of the arts in this country. They taught, provided space to archive and distribute plays, wrote handbooks, created tours, produced radio shows, and wrote books. CRADLE is designed to follow in the footsteps of these theatrical pioneers.
Will such an effort "make the old model obsolete"? I doubt it, at least not as long as the mass media is largely centralized in NYC. But it can restore the trail that was blazed by these men, and make it a viable path for artists who care about encouraging creativity, community, and understanding. I suspect that group won't include Matt Freeman, or Mac Rogers, or George Hunka and that's fine. For my part, I only want people involved who have a heartfelt commitment to the CRADLE mission, and I am convinced that there are many, many out there who do.
And while I am acknowledging commenters whose comments led me to a new insight, Don Hall, in a comment on my post "Parallels," wrote:
Here's my beef with the Nylachi nonsense - I agree with you that the Big Corporate Institutions are swallowing up all the dough but to condemn the entire urban arts community is to condemn thousands of artists that have NOTHING to do with those institutions OR the Big Grant Money they get from the G. It's why you're fight with NYC and Chicago artists is uncompelling - you're fighting with the cats on the shit end of the economic stick and telling us that we're the bad guys.Devilvet doesn't get money that you think should go to Toadsuck...why lump him in with those that do?Like Mac Rogers, Don Hall is right. My desire to increase geographical diversity has never been about rejecting the small theatres struggling to carve out a niche in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. Many of those theatre are very much a part of their community -- I think of a theatre like, say The Classical Theatre of Harlem in this regard. My beef, to borrow Don's terminology, is the message that theatre people can only have a "serious" career if they are in Nylachi; that theatre in Nylachi is the only theatre worth considering; that their is a geographical hierarchy with Broadway at the top (which has been recognized as a dumb idea for decades now); that "quality" and "excellence" has a geographical component. This is nothing short of an ideology, one that is oft repeated by those who have bully pulpits for the art form such as Michael Kaiser and Rocco Landesman, and that gets passed down to high schoolers across the nation through TV broadcasts of the Tony Awards and TV shows like "Taking the Stage" and "Grease: You're the One That I Want" and "Fame" that are little more than extended advertisements for the Broadway and commodity-arts ideology.
I remember when I was in high school and reaching the conclusion that I wanted to make theatre my life, my parents questioned me as to whether I thought I was "good enough for Broadway." Even in the land of Robert Gard's Wisconsin Idea Theatre (I grew up in Racine WI) that was the only benchmark. It certainly was the only thing I had in my mind, to such an extent that I wasted a year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts because it advertised itself as the oldest acting school in New York, so it must be good. It wasn't until I was in my 30s that I recognized the falsity of that ideology.
So my quest, through CRADLE and through my teaching, is to open up an awareness and create opportunities for both young theatre artists and also creative people who, like Matt Freeman, want to express themselves even if they make their living doing something else. So yes, write it yourself...and act it yourself, and sing it yourself, and paint it yourself, and dance it yourself. And do it for others, for your community, as an end in itself and not a means to "fame and fortune."
Thanks Matt, Mac, Don, and Buckminster.