Hey! Theatre People! Stop HURTING THEATER!

On Saturday my wife and I went to see a site specific piece about the environment. We went because my sister in law in the video installation had a short movie. Now, until we got there I didn’t realize it was going to be one of those site specific pieces which drags the audience from site to site. Generally, I hate that kind of work. Rarely does it work, does moving the audience from place to place actually ADD to the story. I feel more like a child being ushered around a museum where I am talked down to by the guide.

And much to my surprise…I wasn’t surprised. It was EXACTLY as I expected.

A piece about the environment where they dragged us around and told us how polluting is bad…

WOW. Shocked! Shocked I am. Polluting bad?! Really!? Holy CRAP, we should do something about that. Really. We should get on that, right now. With the polluting stuff…we should, like, you know…start recycling and using less…

It was bad theater. It talked down to the audience (it was a New York theater going audience, I have a feeling they know pollution is bad and recycling is a good idea), wasn’t funny when it needed to be, and was awfully, awfully singular in it’s dimension.

Why is it when we’re doing outdoor theater we suddenly have to simplify? Why do we have to make it like a political rally organized by 8th graders? Why do we need the silly dance with garbage? Why do we need the conceit that an actor is “late” so the other actors have to “improvise?”

What about this? Let’s talk about the real world challenges about moving from a nation that consumes a treMENDOUS amount of oil to one that uses less? If you’re going to tell me to eat organic food because it’s good for the environment, can we talk about how EXPENSIVE it is?

Let’s stop preaching to our audience. Let’s actually talk about how complicated things can be.

Oversimplifying and preaching to the choir isn’t going to get us anywhere. We need theater to be dynamic, challenging in both substance and style. We need to defy the expectations of our audience, we need to excite their imaginations–not meet them.

Because if we don’t…why do we need theater when we have so many other things that surprise us, engage us, and challenge us?

And, oh, and one final thing: can we ban the phrase “it’s a complicated time” from our work? Like things weren’t complicated previously… Yes, they were. It’s a sort of temporal selfishness to assume NOW is more complicated than THEN… Get over it.

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