Where has theatre gone?
Nowhere. It is coming back , stupid. As evidenced by the popular Frogz by Imago here in Boston, and the worldwide sensation of Cirque de Soleil. Fast Company magazine even did an article on the success of Cirque last month, so you know that they are raking in the dough.
The circus has come to town, and it is going to save the theatrical world's ass. At least according to the Boston Globe this past weekend in the article A Striking Style.
Hard truths about the state of what most of us think of as theatre are often hard to hear. I was especially struck by the following statement by Andre Serrand which wraps up the article:
Physical theater is an antidote to work that doesn't make the most of the stage itself, proponents say.
''The reason people deserted theater is because it lacked life," says Serrand. ''Any movie by Altman or Fellini is more theatrical than most psychological drama. Most of what's on HBO is better written. And most things are better than watching five people onstage tear each other apart."
The director adds: ''What we are doing with music and masks and comedy and vivid re-creations is bringing theater back to where it began."
Yikes. You have to admit that he's got something there. Television drama has got intensely better as the years have gone on, and I don't think there is a comic playwright out there writing any better satire than Arrested Development, South Park, or Reno 911.
Terry Teachout has said that theatre has basically become an ineffective medium to deliver any type of message. And many critics have proclaimed that theatre should give up the fight and accept that it is going the way of Museums.
But yet this spark of life, this influx of younger audiences at productions like Blue Man, Stomp and Def Poetry Jam. And now there is the Frogz phenomenon.
Mainstream theatre of the psychological drama tries hard to bridge the gap. For instance, take the Huntington Theatre's recent production of 36 Views. Picking some elements of Japanese theatre, they placed them into a very straightforward potboiler script to juice up a little magic. Something always feels a little off about these approaches though, something doesn't quite feel integrated enough. At the end of 36 Views you are not breathless with the culmination of the synthesis of the story and the Noh theatre theatrical elements.
I don't know how many times I have seen a description of a Shakespeare production, or even a new play that says, "incorporating elements of Butoh dance." And then, when I see the production, I am very hard pressed to identify where in the heck the Butoh dance is. Having witnessed the amazing theatrical creations of Dappin'Butoh in Seattle, I am fully aware of the power of this dance form. However, I think what most often happens is that directors, with all the right intentions, are really not interested or aware of the art form beyond the fact that they think it would be cool to implement it.
These elements are a craft, practiced and innovated by experts and dedicated students. What most often ends up on stage in these hybrid productions is mediocre puppetry, dance or movement. I mean let's face it, how is an actor expected to learn lines, blocking, puppetry and dance technique in the now typical 5 week rehearsal process? Should we even try? Is the fight over?
I have more thoughts on this after reading Neil Labute's autobahn on the train yesterday. But more about that later.