You all thought this blog was dead, I know. Actually, I've had this post stewing in my brain for over two months. As more time went by, I kept adding more and more onto it, instead of just posting the damn thing. I still have yet to adopt the frequency of posting required for a really successful blog. Sigh. The irony is that, as the post relates, all the while that it's been waiting I've actually been getting immersed in reading a lot of other people's blogs.

Anyway. Here it is. Not my complete thoughts by any means on the subjects of theater, Internet communities, and my new job, but I'm sure I'll be covering all of that sometime in the future...


I started this posting as a response to this article (Can you still read it?? Damn! Why does the New York Times think it's such hot shit that they need to block access to anything that's two weeks old? Anyway, you can get some sense of it by reading here). In a nutshell, it's an article by second string Times theater critic Charles Isherwood revealing his conflicted feelings about not enjoying "political" theater. I got pissed off when I read it, thought of writing a letter to the editor, realized that anything I wrote would never get printed (I've tried before!), and then proceeded to start this little blog entry which has now evolved into something else entirely. But I have to post, if only to get all of this stuff off my chest. Here goes!


Who would have thought that the Internet, of all things, would get me excited about theater again?

There were other factors, too: the fall chill in the air, the prospect of an exciting new job (which I've now started -- I'm being paid to make theater), but it's really the Internet that kick-started my excitement about theater and has been recently feeding that interest.

Excited about theater again? Let me clarify. You're probably thinking, "Isn't Brian that guy who's constantly yammering on about things like Brecht and the medieval mystery cycles?" You're right -- nothing gets me more excited than talking about theater's potential as a forum for community dialogue and self-representation, a place to imagine reconfigurations of our society. Just ask my boyfriend about the time he innocently asked about the aesthetic theories underlying Weimar cabaret and was treated to a crazed subway ride-long introduction to Brechtian theory. He stopped long ago counting the number of times a day I employ the phrase "building community." My interest in theater's potential has never waned.

Instead, it was my interest in the actual theater that gets produced in New York (or anywhere) that had been rather lackluster. I suppose that practitioners of any craft are inevitably the most critical consumers of it (don't sell shoddy shoes to a cobbler!), but I find that theater people, in particular, usually hate most of the plays they see. (This rule is not ironclad: many actors who perform in musicals seem to get excited about stuff on Broadway, but I suppose they are a generally more celebratory lot...) I don't necessarily think that most filmmakers hate most films or that most novelists hate most novels, but for some reason the theater arouses a different kind of response.

I think any serious theater practitioner (I'm talking mostly about wirters and directors here), though, ought to admit to him or herself that theater (unlike the film or the novel) is a dying artform and has been for decades. No one goes to it and no one cares about it. Which means that every individual performance that one sees is fraught with significance about the relevance of the artform iteself. (It's a bit like the pressure felt by a member of a minority group who breaks into an establishment industry, like Jackie Robinson in baseball -- every move the person makes is scrutinized because it reflects, for good or ill, on the group as a whole.) Imagine if every time you went to a movie you thought, "Well, that movie was all right, but does it offer adequate justification for the fact that movies exist at all??????" Your head would explode. But we theater practitioners are more self-lacerating types (at least I am). I can honestly say that I ask myself that question about theater a lot, certainly every time that I choose whether or not to work on a production. And while not everyone I know harbors such apocalyptic sentiments, almost all significant 20th Century theoretical wiritng on theater (from Artaud to Brecht and Brook and beyond) has begun with some version of the question "Why is theater necessary?"

In the face of such questioning, very little that I was seeing seemed to hold up. I've pretty much spent the past three years roundly dismissing everything on Broadway, off-Broadway and all the experimental stages. I've enjoyed certain productions and performers but I haven't seen much of anything that convinced me that theater had any relevance to the larger world. Everything, in my estimation, was either hopelessly enmeshed in the system of soulless capitalist exploitation (Broadway) or so rarified and self-referential that it had no hope of drawing in an audience beyond a knowing, self-congratulatory elite (most downtown stuff). I'm a member of that elite and I often enjoy that kind of thing -- but, I asked myself, why the hell would anyone else want to see it?

I can't say that my opinions have changed all that much. I still think that most theater that gets produced fails to advance the art much or to challenge the foundations of society or our collective ways of seeing. I haven't seen much that's been great lately.

However, I've started reading theater blogs.

Weird indeed that theater, that art form that most people think of as stodgy and retrogressive, should have a flourishing life on the worldwide web. I must admit that until recently I was unaware of it. Though I maintain this blog with intermittent regularity, I don't really read a lot of blogs. And then I started Googling for people's opinions on the Public Theater's Mother Courage and I came across this website, which led me to this one and this one. Not only do all these people write with a considerable degree of expertise on the current theater scene, liberally referencing personal favorites like Howard Barker, Caryl Churchill, and Richard Foreman, as well as BB, but they also all seem to know each other. Lo and behold, it seemed, here was the thing I'd been struggling so long to build: a theater community!

I'm not the only one who's recently been turned on to theater blogs; apparently, the editor of the Time Out New York theater section has been so impressed with what he's been reading out there on the blogosphere that he decided to start a blog of his own.

One thing about the theatrical conversation on the blogosphere is that it's strikingly anti-establishment. Certain topics inevitably recur, like the funding structures of non-profit theaters, the hegemony of the New York Times as arbiter of theatrical taste, the unadventurous decisions abut what plays get produced. Blogs are like David's slingshot; they project opinions much farther, they give power to the little guy. They offer individuals a chance to rave about stuff that is ignored, underappreciated, or misunderstood elsewhere.

Most exciting of all, though, are the links. It's lovely to log in and see how topics of debate and discussions of articles spread throughout the blogosphere. I learn daily about new sites and I add them to my list of bookmarks. Thanks to all this browsing, I'm much better informed about the interesting theater that's being produced, as well as the interesting criticism that gets written, interesting behind the scenes news. Everyone contributes their own little bits of knowledge and it gets disseminated all around.

In other words, it's not really the theater that's gotten better, it's that the dynamic of my relationship to it has changed. As I got plugged into the blogosphere I was also in the process of becoming a "professional theater practitioner" (at least in the sense that I get paid), which gave me a bit more of a sense of authority; it gave me a clear identity in the theatrical world. I'll be talking more about my new position in future posts. Anyone who knows about the theater I'm currently working at knows that it was built and has been maintained through grassroots organizing. I'm realizing now that the Internet provides a whole new way to conduct that organizing, to make those links. Even though theater is all about presence -- "real" experiences -- and the Internet is supposedly about "virtual" experience, there is incredible potential for the latter to feed and support the former.

And the theater that serves to benefit the most from the online revolution is marginal theater -- the anti-establishment, the experimental, the non-commercial. Today's virtually unregulated Internet terrain is close to something like a purely democratic environment (I know that's a pretty big statement and I know that corporations have their grubby paws all over the Internet, but still we can be a little bit idealistic about blogs, can't we? They're providing little guys with unprecedented megaphones. It's like Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, but with a potentially worldwide audience...)

All of which leads us back to Charles Isherwood's reductive idea of "political" theater -- he's saying that the content of a piece makes it political (a definition that fits for consciousness-raising docudramas or agitprop) and that its success can be measured in the ways that it changes people's minds or mobilizes them to take political action. But we all know that making a play is definitely not the most effective way to change anyone's mind about anything or to get them to "do" things (write an op-ed piece in the paper or hold a rally if you want to do that).

There is a way, however, in which the simple act of putting on a play -- outside the commercial environment, using a process that allows disenfranchised groups to perform, to experience the empowerment of creativity -- that is, in itself a form of revolutionary activity. Isherwood and the others in the debate about political theater's effectiveness are stuck analyzing a very traditional model of theater. In future posts, I want to lay out a vision for an alternative model, one that is not utopian (it actually exists) but does require a different set of values and a different kind of commitment to build. That's the kind of theater I'm working in. Just as blogging is a revolutionary form of media publication, one that bypasses established channels, this form of independent theater is revolutionary, too. And thus the two are made to be complementary.

But more on that later. I'm just whetting your appetite. May the conversation begin!