Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Condensed Authenticity

A few minutes ago, I sent the following email to the students in one of my classes -- a class that is investigating the work of Patrick Overton (Rebuilding The Front Porch of America), David Diamond (Theatre for Living), Jill Dolan (Utopia in Performance), Cornerstone Theatre, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, def Poetry Jam, Anna Deavere Smith, The Laramie Project, and many others. I wrote:

"This blog post by Patti Digh, author of the marvelous "Life Is a Verb" and Asheville resident, seemed to apply to what we are studying -- to the sentence "everyone is an artist" and the importance of telling one's stories, whether in poems or story circles or plays or performances. We are so very certain that we know what qualifies as "drama," what is "worth telling." But the woman in the grocery store line holding on for dear life to a recipe contains so much truth and emotion and insight that it almost dwarfs our usual dramatic fare. Why don't we tell these stories? Why don't we feel our way into the reality through the small moments that carry so much truth? Isn't authenticity what we dream of?"

There are times when I feel that I, as a theatre historian, a theorist, a humanist, a director, a teacher, have lost the thread of what is most important, what stories we really need to bring us together as human beings. My students were so inspired by watching def Poetry Jam, because they could hear the passion of real experience shaped into art, the power of condensed authenticity. So often what is lost in the discussion of business models, marketing, fundraising, job searching, and the day-to-day trials of life in the arts is that its power rests not in its flash, in its slickness, in its structure, but in the power that comes when human beings seek to share a real emotion or insight in a way that is deeply felt and powerfully authentic. If audiences could encounter that more often on our stages, I don't think we'd have to worry about what makes theatre special -- the audience would know that the theatre was where truth was told, where hearts came together, where connections were real, where life was revealed.
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Tony Adams said...

great post.

Ph. D. McResing said...

I think the question of authenticity in theatre is an oddly powerful one. Was def Poetry Jam more authentic for its first audiences than it was for your students? Does a piece stay authentic no matter what it's context?

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