Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Sid Finch of the Theatrical Blogosphere

Professor Frink: N'hey hey! Ahem, n'hey.... So the compression and expansion of the longitudinal waves cause the erratic oscillation -- you can see it there -- of the neighbouring particles.

(Sees little girl waving her hand.)

Yes, what is it? What? What is it?

Little Girl: Can I play with it?

Professor Frink: No, you can't play with it; you won't enjoy it on as many levels as I do.... Mm-hai bw-ha whoa-hoa. The colours, children! Mwa-ha-lee!

The Scott Walters experiment, complete with comments is available to be read on his site.

Scott, a professor at UNC at Asheville, wrote this post first.

And then, after monitoring the responses for about a day, revealed that the post was an experiment to basically see what the reactions would be.

The response to the initial post was, as Scott outlines, hostile. There is absolutely no doubt about this. I know because I followed it myself, reading at different times throughout the day.

Suddenly, Scott Walters is the pariah, Scott Walters doesn't know how to teach. Scott Walters has never actually done any theatre. Scott Walters is a frustrated artist who couldn't make it in New York. Scott is right, it was amazing how quickly things devolved.

Remember, the real tragedy in the whole Dixie Chicks fiasco, had nothing to do with the substance of Natalie Maines comments. Rather, the real problem with the enormous backlash by pundits against the Dixie Chicks was the proliferation of the message that a pop star has absolutely no right to comment on political matters.

The Scott Walters of the first post, ("the character,") because he is ignorant of anything after Bertolt Brecht, is a "douche." He is the "problem," he is to be ignored boycotted and...what the hell is he doing to our children in our theatre department anyway.

George Hunka's first response to Scotts post was dead-on, right on target. He listed ten shows he thought were innovative, and the innovative companies he thought were doing them. However, I was surprised, even as I was reading it, how quickly it got personal. I fully realize tht there was more than a subtext of personal remark aimed at George in Scott's original post, but if you read Scott's original post, he never attacks people's competence, talent, skills, their work ethic, or worse. (As Don Hall pointed out yesterday, the full majority of the post is actually taken up with an attack on how academic departments are teaching theatre.) He is commenting on innovation.

Avalanche is a cliched phrase, but I don't know how else to express how quickly the condescension, epitephs, and stereotypes began to fly. Like e-mail though, the blogosphere comments section has to be read with a thick skin and much leeway when interpreting it. Humor, backslapping and kidding can sometimes come across as really harsh. However, there is no doubt that a distinct insider vs. outsider dynamic began to arise.

Probably the comment I identified with most was Issaac's at Parabasis. His initial response was that he had many of the same feelings as "Scott Walters" when he hadn't been to see an Off-Off-broadway show in a while. Very true. I like innovative and risk-taking theatre myself, and I try to see as much of it as possible, but it is in short supply here in my regional outpost, (if you want to call Boston that.) There is definitely some stuff out there, but for risk-taking and innovation the ART is probably your most consistent outlet. That is a dicey proposition though, some of their productions could turn you off avante guard for years. (And before anybody attacks me, please understand that in recent years I have seen 19 productions at the ART, everybody from Sasz to Eckert to Rapp to Serban, so I am not just tossing off that line.) I like some of them, but more often I am enraged by others. (I do not use that term lightly.)

Herein lies the problem. The shows George lists are what should be imported by regional theatres, but for the most part, they are not. (However, the ART does make a concerted effort to bring us these types of imports, especially since their expansion into the Zero Arrow space.)We get mostly the Proof's and the Doubt's and the latest Lindsey Abaire or Neil Labute, sometimes two to three seasons after they have premiered in New York.

There may even be some who will comment on this blog, as they did on Scott's, "then why don't you do something!" I have. I have run a theatre company here in Boston that started as a collaborative, used multi-media and incorporates themes of technology and society. But the difference, I have come to realize, can be expressed best by coopting Jack Clancy's wall analogy.

Most generations divide into two camps. One camp recognizes the wall, measures it, and begins to climb it. Some may actually get over to the other side, who knows? Most of the first camp, however, settle on finding a position somewhere on the wall and begin to jealously guard it.

The other camp, standing at the wall, not climbing, divides as well. Half spend their lives standing at the foot of the wall, shaking their fists and shouting. The other half grows bored and walks away.

I have always thought that there is one camp that Mr. Clancy left out: There is always a camp that does not believe there is a wall.

Bill Marx, who I have definitely had my differences with over the years, always has said, "For those who believe we are in a Golden Age, there is nothing I could say to you, is there?"

Even before the birth of the Blogoshpere, (on local or national message boards,) these types of discussions would flare up. Somebody will send up an SOS flare, only to be attacked by people giving examples of great theatre that is going on. This is followed by the SOS shooter spending about two weeks apologizing to all the artists he has offended, then this is usually followed by a round of the offended then saying that they actually sort of agree with some of the things in the original SOS.

This is the cycle and it goes on in theatre communities, book communities, political communities and religious communities.

Some on the comments sections have mentioned that they equate the Scott Walters project/lie as the same type of rhetoric as Anne Coulter. I disagree. Anne Coulter has never couched her rantings as performance, (if only she would.)

Was it an interesting experiment? I guess I would say that even George, though he seems to have major reservations, is starting to assess the project differently. Which is probably the right tone.

After all, George Plimpton's famous Sidd Finch episode was a delightful April Fool's joke, but met with serious criticism because it was run in an iconic journalistic periodical.

Should we be afraid to agree or disagree with his posts? Should we be afraid that we will be the butt of the joke again?

As incoherent as all of the above is, it is my initial reaction.

1 comment:

Scott Walters said...

Thank you for your cogent and level-headed analysis.