a) retreat uffishly into compact, easily-digestible (i.e. pithy) plays about commonplace topics
b) slobber all over itself and loudly declare its inadequacy by overcompensating with postmodern escape clauses or sensationalist uber-absurdist id-worship
c) only spend money on the dead masters who don't need a royalty check anyway or
d) only spend money on clumsy diorama versions of Disney movies, disaster stories, John Waters films, ANY film, etc.
The ultimatum presented by the Monsterists seems responsible enough. Imagine if the money spent on The Shakespeare Theatre's Tempest went into The Clean House at Woolly Mammoth or anything done at Synetic Theatre? Or if the exposure given to the forthcoming pan-disciplinary Shakespeare-in-art festival went into the forthcoming Capital Fringe festival? It sounds like begging the question because, liberal though we may be, we all still shrug at ticket sales as the best evidence of worthwhile art.
Yes, you do.
Come on, admit it.
Buns in seats, right? Don't worry, it's okay to feel this way. I was hanging out with the venerable Hugh Owen a couple weekends ago when even he confessed, upon seeing the legions of followers at a Coldplay concernt, that "we're in the wrong business." The evidence being, apparently, that Coldplay hits the same basic emotional/philosophical/political notes that say, Tennessee Williams did ... only they're stinking rich! So if no less a busybody leading young male commodity than Hugh will turn his head at the sumptuous chords of the capitalist machine, we should feel no shame in joining him from time to time.
In any event, the re-appropriation of a ghost's royalty money isn't something you can legislate, but it is a choice we can make "in the industry." Besides, if more money really translated into better art and better art always got more money from consumers, The Shakespeare Theatre would never be allowed to fail -- according to the capitalist paradigm. But it has. And how.
Money issues aside, I just love the fact that a handful of playwrights are demanding their right to be imaginative again. And all they're doing is throwing the neo-classicist's rules back at them. The demand for broader license with spectacle and cast size ties into my demand for plays that deal with the literal space a story inhabits. The look and population of the playspace is the greatest advantage theatre has over the other competing entertainments. We charge people $20 for two hours in a poorly-climate-controlled room with uncomfortable seats and no food for a reason. It better be something more than five actors talkin about "fuckin life, man!"
Albee would have you believe that the degeneration of theatre is due to people attending the present-day equivalent of circuses and executions. That's how he dismisses the TV and movie crowd. All that other media is just shit and the cognoscenti of today are basically the same people who were discerning enough to attend the theatre four hundred years ago. I read that in an interview of his from lord-knows-when, so maybe he's changed his mind. Or maybe he's cracked open an actual history book and apologized for screwing it up. Either way, I think the belief you have about the utility of live theatre plugs directly into how well your plays are written (i.e. how theatrical they are). In Albee's case, it's a higher order of sarcasm, manipulation and cynicism. Sadly, "higher order" usually just means "polysyllabic" and "manipulation" usually just means "it was all a lie/dream!" And unless you think we need more sarcasm, manipulation and cynicism in American culture, there's not much else to recommend theatre as a worthwhile venue for your daily dose.
So anyway, the anchoring moral for Monsterism is that the administrative side needs to take a jump if the playwright's are going to take a jump. We're such a tight crowd when it comes to voting for the right political candidate -- so why are we so conservative when it comes to nurturing the lifeforce of our own art form?
That's my piece for Monsterism-as-critique-of-the-status-quo. Here's why I like it in its own right. Besides being a welcome antidote to the above-mentioned problems, Monsterism (from the sound of it) might actually have a shot at making playwrights the Romantics they should be. If theatre isn't the best channel for transmitting news, political discourse, escapism or education, then what does it do better than anything? Ooooh! Essay question for everyone! I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.
In short: when playwrights dare to (are allowed to) shoot for the moon ...
- They stop hacking out meticulously coded inner-monologues and shoe-horning them into arcane stage directions (see: Albee again) and ...
- Start ... well ... trying to explore instead. When they explore instead of interpolate, they usually find out that ...
- What we do is more dramatic than what we think. After that ...
- The subject matter switches to how the world could be instead of how shitty the world presently is. This orientation demands solutions to bridge the two. Because a Romantic-Monster aesthetic would celebrate and engage the imagination and intellect ...
- All solutions offered in the Romantic-Monster canon would have to be compelling on a philosophical/conceptual level. Not just the tactile/emotional/gastrointestinal level. As a result ...
- Audiences would emulate the spirit and belief systems of genuine heroes instead of the speeches and mannerisms of useless anti-heroes.