Monday, October 27, 2008

Has Theatre Become Irrelevant When It Comes To Social Commentary?

Who is the audience? Is theatre relevant? Should we aim for social conciousness or keep it light? And how does this apply to Portland?

"The theater could do with a good deal less back-patting and a whole lot more honest reckoning. For too long, dramatists and directors, following the cues of marketing-mad producers and lowest-common-subscriber-oriented artistic directors, have been reflecting the vain self-regard and superficial profundity of a relatively small swath of the country's population -- affluent urban theatergoers." LA Times continued...


Anonymous said...

I think this is a very interesting article, and I am very glad it is posted to followspot. I believe that theater has taken a backseat when it comes to social commentary. The shows that have been lined up thus far for the Portland series of shows have some social and political influence within them. However, I feel that there isn't enough social commentary plays being produced this season. Spring Awakening is great, tackling issues important to todays society but setting it in the past (I hope you all caught it when it came to town.) Spring Awakening also parallels the most recent show at Artists Rep, Speech & Debate which is set in the present day and hits on issues that are taboo. There needs to be more of that. I don't know why PCS, who obviously has the strongest audiences in the Portland theater, doesn't produce plays that shed light on current issues, instead of putting on Guys and Dolls, and A Christmas Carol .... Even Oregon Children's Theater chimes in with a sort of social commentary in Gossamer.

Anonymous said...

Maybe one reason why PCS and other co.s don't offer shows that strive to social commentary is pure cowardice. I swear I never seen more yellow streaks than in the so-called theater "community" of this town.

Ben Waterhouse said...

PCS has to pay the bills, and subscribers seem to like autumnal pablum. But in their defense, they are doing 'Frost/Nixon' and 'Apollo' this season, two shows that address racism, American exceptionalism and executive power. 'R. Buckminster Fuller' takes on corporate greed, environmental destruction and global hunger. 'How to Disappear' is all about the surveillance state. And Storm Large's 'Crazy Enough,' while not exactly political, is all about mental illness and drug addiction.

I saw 'Speech & Debate,' and I thought it more fanciful than insightful, unlike the other show by the same playwright that Blue Monkey produced in the spring. Addressing the taboo doesn't contribute much when the material is that terrible.

Shelly Lipkin said...

Social commentary comes in many packages. Sizing it up to a "yellow streak" or "cowardice" is a short-sighted. Believe it or not, there actually is a place for all kinds of theatrical experience. It takes bravery just to write a play and produce it. One mans social commentary is another mans political frothing at the mouth. Does a play like "Blackbird" have any more socially relevency than "Dead Funny?" If your going though a divorce, "Dead Funny" is going to be damn relevent to you. If you've dealt with child abuse "Blackbird" is going to strike an emotional chord. Is one braver than the other? Is one more cutting edge, or intellectually viable than the other. Not to the audience that gets it. Are we in the business of pushing limits, just to push limits, or are we in the business of grabbing the heart and soul of the audience and carrying their minds along in the bargain? I think the latter.

Anonymous said...

Good argument. But, as everything is political, the commentary issue is moot when you take that line.

I think we all agree that the article's point was that social commentary, defined as current relevancy, is lacking. Is legitimate theatre at a particularly low ebb in the history of it's own relevancy? Yes.
Does it surprise then that regional along with mainstream productions seek attention with fluff?

Soon enough the tide will rise again. Hopefully, a new administration will help. Remember the 80's vs. the 90's?

splattworks said...

Well, you know, they keep telling theatre it's dead, but it stubbornly insists on turning the board on each night and unlocking the doors.

It'd be great to see more new, well-written and finely staged dramas about contemporary subjects, but, frankly, they're a hard sell; so theatres that have to program a whole season (as opposed to do a spot show here or there) tend to play it safe and maybe slot in one or two tough shows each year that they pay for with the old favorites or comedies, or else they work in some serious stuff through late-nights or readings of new plays. Hence, you're likely to see more edgy stuff at small theatres which have a more eclectic (and, alas, smaller) audience to begin with, who are willing and interested in traveling to discomfortland.

On the other hand, I think about some of the smack-you-over-the-head-then-smack-you-one-more-time-for-your-own-good agitprop/social commentary theatre I've seen over the years, and I reach for my revolver.*


*Obscure reference to socially relevant music.