Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Fair State

I always wondered how Iowa became the preferred codename for "hicksville." True, the Iowa caucuses are a nauseating combination of Tammany Hall and the State Fair: deep-fried democracy on a stick with a long line to the port-a-john. But why must the national news networks bleach the state to a Klan white so that Obama's hairsplitting triumph there sounds revolutionary? That probably owes more to Obamania than any built-in bias for the Hawkeye State, but still ...

Des Moines sits at the intersection of Interstates 80 and 35 -- two highways that evenly quarter the land and position the capital city halfway between Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and Kansas City. This makes it more than a drive-thru state; it's a keystone state for the Midwest. Iowa was brought into the Union to balance the slave state of Texas. It was one of the lone Dukakis States twenty years ago. I lived there for eight of my formative years and all I remember is a progressive, culturally-minded place with all the fresh air, pork chops, sweet corn, and soy products you could want.

So why do people like David Cote slam "poverty-line hicks from Iowa" for spending money on religion instead of live theatre? I don't know. Maybe he visited my dad's old parish in Martinsdale, that monument to Lutheran opulence. No matter. Who could have anticipated the exciting, ingenious designs of Zach Mannheimer?

Except, of course, Scott Walters! The title "Anywhere but New York" pretty much sums it up. Click on Scott's name to catch an e-mail update from Zach himself. Click on the picture above to be electronically linked all the way out to Iowa itself! Did I mention I used to be a paperboy for the Des Moines Register? Allow me to lob another one at your doorstep.


Everything about Zach's project fits with the principles of decentralization that Scott explores on his blog. Insofar as we are concerned about the health and integrity of "American Theatre," we must explore our own nation. I don't see this as a mere corrective to the self-defeating NY-centric model that currently dominates. And I'm not just gushing because it happens to involve my boyhood home -- Zach chronicles a tour through the country that leaves open the possibility for similar developments in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Omaha, and Missoula.

I haven't read his entire blog yet (it's as much a drinking tour of the heartland as a cultural survey), but here's what I admire most about the whole enterprise. We compare theatre to religion. We compare it to music. We compare it to a gallery. A gymnasium. A hospital. I believe that the raw ingredients of theatre are time, space, and people. Any project that takes the time to enter new spaces and connect with different people is good for theatre. So while we theatre folk often feel a kindred calling with priests, musicians, painters, athletes and doctors ... it must be said that we are also, at heart, a brotherhood of explorers.

Here's to hoping New York finds more sister cities in her own country ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anna Deavere Smith’s “On the Road” project crossed my mind while reading your entry, as she has spent so much of her artistic energy on building bridges through geographic and cross-cultural interview collage. Her interview with playwright/poet Ntozake Shange prompted the following quote on identity and a “psychic sense of place,” and caused me to speculate where “home ” is for the nomadic actor.

“It’s a way of knowing that no matter where I put myself that I am not necessarily what’s around me. I am part of my surroundings and I become separate from them, and its being able to make those differentiations clearly that lets us have an identity…’cause we might be alone in a trance state, someplace like the desert and we begin to feel as though we are part of the desert –which we are right at that minute---but we are not the desert, we are part of the desert, and when we go home we take with us that part of the desert that the desert gave us, but we’re still not the desert. It’s an important differentiation to make because you don’t know what you’re giving if you don’t know what you have and you don’t know what you’re taking if you don’t know what’s yours and what’s somebody else’s.”