Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Free Fire Zone

As I expected, I'm really enjoying Theresa Rebeck's "Free Fire Zone" - admittedly in part because we think alike. She feels the same as I about post-modernism in the theatre:
...On one side of that line you have people who think post-modernism is a good idea, and on the other people who think that post-modernism is a load of nonsense perpetrated on the story-telling community by protofascists from Italy...
Although she doesn't name Mac Wellman as the leading perpetrator, like I do. She puts the blame on Gertrude Stein:
...Obviously not all writing is character-centric. If you're interested in writing nihilistic postapocalyptic pseudo-Gertrude Stein verse drama, you can toss everything I said out the window. The same perhaps can be said if you want to write action movies, where the most complicated emotional moment will be someone yelling "Get in the truck!"
And I thought this was an especially good explanation of what went wrong in the theater:
"...The propagation and worship of bad theater, particularly in America, has come about through a series of worthy historical events that collided in a way that wasn't as useful as it could have been. The achievement of theatrical titans such as Eugene Ionesco, Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett cast a wide shadow at a time when the audience for theater began to dwindle. The heyday of post-modern achievement consequently presents itself as the model of theatrical storytelling in opposition to more realistic models adopted in television and film. Subsequent generations of writers, struggling for an identity concluded that, because their heroes did it, tossing out narrative altogether is automatically art. Unfortunately abandoning forward motion in an art form that exists in time is not such a good idea. Audience expectations that they are on a ride with a beginning, middle and end that will get them to a destination are undermined. Consequently, theater increasingly becomes a kind of elitist event one attends because "it's good for you" - like opera or going to the dentist... 
If she didn't have Mac Wellman in mind when she wrote that passage, she might as well have. Wellman said: 
The failure of a lot of theater is that it’s Aristotelian, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end: 
He thinks that meeting audience expectations is failure. And I think it's truly because he has this elitist idea that he, the artiste, knows what's good for the audience, and they're a bunch of banality-mongering losers for preferring stories that have a forward motion in time. 

Rebeck also has a good theory on the rise of the importance of the director in theater,  which jibes with my belief that part of the problem is that since directors can do whatever the hell they want with Shakespeare's scripts, they certainly don't hesitate to do anything they want to anybody else's scripts:

My theory is that as theater has become increasingly problematic to produce, producers have turned to classics and revivals as a way of protecting themselves. But these plays require vital new interpreters - you can't just stage them, that's been done already - hence the rise of the star director... 
...One director I know directs alot of Shakespeare, and he seemingly convinced himself that by being an expert at interpreting Shakespeare, he can also "become" Shakespeare - he seriously thinks that he is a genius because he's good at staging Shakespeare, and Shakespeare was a genius. Consequently, all living playwrights (who are not Shakespeare) are beneath him...
And she also puts in a plug for playwrights directing their own work:
...writers still have no reason to suspect their own authenticity. We know that we know how to tell stories because we create them out of whole cloth every day. That aspect of our psyche is unusually (in this business) secure. We know how to tell stories, and a lot of directors, some of whom are wildly overhyped, really don't know how to tell a story, at least not from scratch. So... I say go ahead and direct. What are you waiting for?
Nice. I think I will quote that on the NYCPlaywrights web site.

More gems from this indispensable book soon.