Monday, June 23, 2008

Deepening Time

From Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class:

The one-life-per-person rule is the ultimate time constraint and people have never been happy with it. A good bit of intellectual and social history can be read as a series of attempts to get around it. In addition to life-shifting, a strategy of stacking two or more lives into one end-to-end, modern day attempts would include the war on death and aging - an ongoing campaign to extend life - and parallel processing, which is the strategy of trying to to live several lives simultaneously by combining a vocation with longtime avocations: thus the programmer-rock-climber-rock musician.

With so many people feeling chronically pressed for time, a new set of moment to moment strategies has emerged. The intent is what scholars call "time deepening" - if one cannot elongate time, perhaps one can deepen or intensify it, getting more from each bit. To me this is the key difference in our use of time, and it can be far more insidious than long hours.

Florida's book then goes on to diagram the "experiential" inclinations of his Creative Class, examining how Leisure has changed over the decades. His large metaphor is the Kayak-Motorboat difference in the choice of outdoor activities.

How does theatre address this audience? In a way, this has always been the question.

Gurnet Theatre Project's production of Adam Rapp's Essential Self Defense probes and tries to give voice to the alienation and the pressing despair of the youth who are coming-of-age in post 9/11 America. While down the street, the ORFEO Group is presenting Look Back in Anger, John Osborne's play which attempted to do the same thing in 1950's England.

Osborne uses Jimmy Porter's cynical rants, occasional roughhousing, music playing and squalid living conditions to achieve an experiental effect. Adam Rapp uses cynical dialogue, physical violence, live music and squalid living conditions to achieve the experiental effect.

While it is true that many of the displacement anxieties facing Jimmy Porter can be related to by the young people of today, I think the way emerging classes are experiencing life and art is changing. Osborne's character's sit around the hovel, ironing and reading the paper. Rapp's characters go to a karoake bar where they don't even sing cover tunes, they basically create songs off the top of their head. They take self defense classes, they roller skate, and the slightly demented main character dyes colorful easter eggs in some type of large scale creative project. (Osborne does have his characters break into a vaudeville late in the evening.)

Frank Rich pointed out, in a discussion of a 1980's revival of Look Back in Anger, that Osborne relied very heavily on the creaky constructions of drawing room plays - telegrams, letters, and sudden, almost magical, attractions forming to complicate the proceedings. I want to say Rapp relies very heavily on some conventions of modern plays as well, but I'm not sure, yet.

In an essay on Pragmatic Theatre in the New York Review of Books, Tom Stoppard talks about seminal plays of his generation, and how, it strikes him, "that a play that depends on keeping its secrets isn't worth seeing twice." However, he then slyly contradicts himself with winking acknowledgement. He goes on to say that plays that advance the art are plays that "withhold information."

But Osborne's play, though it sang a new song, didn't advance anything deeper. It withheld nothing. It shouldn't be surprising that Look Back in Anger was admired by Terence Rattigan (I speak as an admirer, too). After I saw Look Back in Anger I started trying to write a play like it, but I stopped because there was no point. It had been done. (It was also true that I couldn't write a play like Look Back in Anger, but that's a mere technicality.) The point was I could see what Osborne was up to and how it might be done.

But with Godot and The Birthday Party the case was entirely different. I couldn't see how it was done. I couldn't see what exactly was done, either. Each play was simultaneously inspiring and baffling. It broke a contract which up to that era had been thought to exist between a play and its audience. There had seemed to be a tacit agreement, up to then, that if you could be bothered to show up to watch something up there, then the thing up there had certain obligations toward you, such as the obligation to give you the minimum information you needed to make sense of the whole.

It seems that Beckett and Pinter were "experiential" in a much different way.

Anyway, these are just some random thoughts.

Another question and one I may attack in a later post: Is why does the character of Sadie, the heroine of Rapp's play, seem to differ so little from the put upon female at the center of Osborne's play? Surely, young single women have morphed in their overall role in American society as to warrant a protaganist or supporting character that is not defined in the same way as the general, coservative consensus of 1950's London?

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