April 30, 2008

Beyond Aristotle

Devilvet brought up something interesting in the comments on this blog. He said:
"Skill" and "trust" are codifications meaning the artist will adhere to Aristotlean Dramaturgy and that if any real "challenge" is issued to the audience rest assured it will not be a challenge to notions of content or narrative. I may challenge their notion of who is a worthy protagonist or an audience's preconceived notions of situations so long as the narrative form is adhered to.

Implied with this is also the idea that to experiment with or disregard Aristotlean Dramaturgy is ulitmately a betrayal commited between artist and audience.

That to do anything other than ArisDram approach is disrepectful.

That one can not attempt to innovate or have an auteurish POV without implying that their audience is beneath them.

The idea is that anyone who doesn't acknowledge "skill" level must have an inherit disreagrd and contempt for their audience...

In short it becomes the demonization of the avant-garde.
The quote was taken from a conversation about another matter altogether, but it does make me wonder. As a budding avant-garde playwright, this means quite a lot to me since many of the so-called rules of playwriting (and even script format) hails from that Aristotelian perspective. I think enough ink and bandwidth has been used to discuss why Aristotle's ideas work and why relying on Poetics to judge a script or a performance can harm rather than help. What I don't see discussed so much is how, in the absence of Aristotelian "rules," we can evaluate avant-garde texts and performances. How do we determine was is and isn't "stage-worthy" when a piece has a style and content that is anything but An American Family in Crisis (Let's not get into works that have some far-out ideas about character and plot)?

Speaking of myself as a playwright, I've been more often dismayed at my peers' lack of sensitivity and imagination than any shortages in budget or time. When I say sensitivity, I'm not talking about playing nice. It's more like an openness, a receptivity, a heightened awareness of what goes on beneath the surface of things. I mean an appreciation for mystery, a comfort with ambiguity and paradox, the ability to enjoy the stillness between movements and the silence between sounds.

Let me give you an example. At my local playwrights' group, I presented a draft of a scene I'm working on. These are the kinds of comments I got: my scene should be a screenplay; there's not enough dialogue; it would be very expensive to produce; etc. With the exception of the two people who picked up on the Noh and dance-like elements, nobody got it. I can deal with that. What unsettled me most was that nobody asked me any questions before going into critique mode.

I. Hate. That.

If there's something that makes me want to grind my teeth to the gums, it's when people don't understand something and refuse to admit it. When it comes to art, especially writing and performance, I know a lot of my impressions and reactions are subjective. Being a misfit and outcast has taught me that a lot of things are matters of taste. I usually don't think something is good or bad. I only like it or don't like it. Then I think about why something attracts or repels (or worse, bores) me. From there I might even expand my horizons and seek out different things to read or watch that does more of what I like or "corrects" something I didn't like. It's how I found my way into a lot of interests. I have a tendency to collect things I like, not intentionally, but it just happens that way. So when I come across a text or a performance, I often have a frame of reference, but when I don't . . . I admit it.

When it comes to theater, I must be some sort of mutant because I assume two things:

1. Theater is not a passive medium. As a member of the audience, it is incumbent upon me to engage with and understand the material on its own terms. I need to let go of my biases and assumptions to truly appreciate what I am witnessing on the page or up on stage.

2. The artists know what they're doing. If I'm confused or alienated it's because I'm not paying attention. It is my responsibility to understand the work, not on the artists to shove it down my feeding tube. In a feedback environment, I must endeavor to ask more questions and make fewer statements.

But getting back to my point: What can we do to improve our receptiveness to avant-garde work? How do we critique avant-garde pieces? Aside from the ubiquitous money and space issues, how to we choose which ones to perform?

April 14, 2008

Putting It Out There

This is my attempt to reach out to the people who read this to see if they can help.

I'm moving to NYC by the first week of July. I've made my decision and done my research, so there's nothing anyone can do to dissuade me aside from New York being invaded by zombies or vaporized by a nuclear bomb. I realize that finding a place to stay will be a lot easier if I find work first. Ideally I'd like a position where I can use my talent for writing and editing, but I'd be a freelance security guard for a theater if it came down to that (in other words, sleep on a prop couch and make sure nobody breaks in). I don't care if it's entry-level as long as I can take care of necessities like rent and food while building contacts with the local theater community. Otherwise, I'm seriously considering the merits of living on the subway or a park bench..

Can somebody help me here?