What Theatre should be (in my rarely-if-ever humble opinion)
Martin Esslin said in his essay on Absurdist Theatre, “Absurd is that which has no purpose, or goal, or objective.” As far as I’m concerned, this is a waste of Art. Art is so powerful and important, yet so many so-called “artists” like to take that power for granted. I accept that Art is subjective and therefore should be immune from objective, matter-of-fact statements. I also accept that some may completely disagree with my views of what the Theatre should consist of in the 21st century. I welcome any and all to refute everything I say in this essay. That being said, after reading, viewing, and performing in a combined hundreds of pieces of Theatre, I have come to the conclusion that the best Theatre is that which is fully justified and clear. If the audience leaves completely confused and pissed off, the playwright has committed theatrical sin and should rethink their chosen career.
Now, when Henrik Ibsen said, “People demand reality. No more. No less;” that is not what I want people to take away from this essay. I am all for imaginative, experimental, out-of- the-box Theatre. One of my favorite theatrical scenes is from Neil Simon’s Jake’s Women, where his protagonist witnesses an imaginary conversation between his late wife and their daughter. Obviously, witnessing one’s dead relative speak to one’s living relative is not realistic, but that didn’t make the scene any less beautiful and heartbreaking. HOWEVER, this scenario is still relatively easy for the audience to follow. I am not against complexity, and I love Art that requires deep digging to grasp its entire meaning (I’ve been in love with the musical Rent for over a decade now, and I still find something new every time I listen to it). But the audience must be left a trail of bread crumbs to find their way to that meaning. If the audience has no idea where to even begin searching for the answers to the questions the play presents, then the playwright has failed. For example, Antonin Artaud’s Jet of Blood is the exact opposite of what we should be striving for, because its only goal is to confuse and anger the audience. This is not Art. It is self-indulgent and pretentious and should not be encouraged by anyone.
And remember the wise words that Syndrome states in The Incredibles: “When everyone’s super…no one will be.” In other words…no, you can’t say “Anything can be Art”. Because if Anything and Everything is Art…then NOTHING is Art.
Perhaps I say all this from an Arts Advocate perspective. If the Arts had all the funding in the world, we could afford to tolerate this genre of so-called “theatre” (yes, the lower-case “t” and quotation marks around the word are purposeful in this context). But we all know that the Arts are notoriously under-funded. I consider myself to be more knowledgeable about theatre than the average theatre-goer, so if even I have no idea what is going on, then I have to imagine most of the audience is also having a bad time. We have a problem if I am watching a show and thinking to myself, “Even I don’t want to fund this!” We simply cannot afford to create theatre that leaves the audience in a worse mood than when they entered-because it hurts the rest of the Arts. If we want society to give Artists the respect we deserve, we cannot make it too difficult for them to respect us!
What do ya think? Did I hit the nail on the head, or completely miss the mark? Let me know your thoughts!
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