Acerbic theatre writer Brendan Kiley scores an interesting, if cringe-worthy, piece of arts journalism with his feature in this week's Stranger, Play Money; Why Is the City of Seattle Financing the Worst Theater in Town?
He traces the $13,000.00 dollar donation from the City of Seattle to the Conciliation Project for their production: Global SeXXX-ism: un-wrapped. The production, according to Kiley, was horrendous. But in its examination of this case, Kiley's article appears to range over many of the arguments and discussions that seem to be raging in the theatre blogosphere:
1. Political Art (Kiley calls it Theatre of Good Intentions)
2. Artist Hostility to the Audience
3. Avante-Garde Theatre
4. Public Funding of the Arts
5. The Place of Criticism.
While Kiley admits the following:
Artists have a right, no a duty, to make bad art. You have to fall a few times before you can ride a bike, and putting execrable nonsense onstage, ( and being shamed by an audience's indifference or hostility) is good artistic training. I do not begrudge anyone an ambitious failure.
The incredibly unlikely happens. Art sometimes changes the world. Behind the Iron Curtain, jazz, hedonistic rock groups like the Plastic People of the Universe, and the underground literary scene helped erode
While saying that he understands the above, (as well as the fact that we should celebrate a City handing over this money to a small theatre company,) Kiley really seems to be questioning if the play he saw, (and didn't like,) should be receiving "arts" monies.
an artless piece of theater about racism is about as effective as a magic wand, only less entertaining. That's what makes SeXXX-ism a good case study: It was "political art" stripped of the art, naked ideology standing onstage. And it failed. It cared less about being good than doing good—the
Theater of Good Intentions strikes again.
What Kiley's dissection of the case seems to be probing for is the buried virus, the cause, not the symptom. He arrives at the crossroads of what appears to be the unfortunate meeting of a system that that is completely set up for the wrong elements to speak right to its very purposes.
In other words, when the Arts giving system seems to want to weight their giving towards something other than Art, then a "theatre company" not really interested in Art will be glad to take their money.
Anybody who is interested in all of these questions should read this article and meditate over it.
And the by the way, Kiley saves a big, stinging blow for his ending:
Part of the reason the Conciliation Project got funding was because it planned to take the show to local schools. You haven't made a socially useful piece of theater until you've tormented some school children with it and proved what they already suspect: Theater, like, totally blows.