Wednesday, December 12, 2007

another from the vault

Wrote this three years ago, after attending the Berkshire Conference, a high-end arts junket run by MassMOCA and some other big time folks.

I was asked to come and sit on a panel about alternative theater in America. Turned rapidly into one of the worst, most angering weekends of my adult life.

They put us up in high style, fed us, we were hobnobbing with some serious folks and Nancy and I stood around like a couple of assholes, not able to catch the flow of the thing for a single moment.

Went home and wrote this. It’s undated, but it must be sometime winter of 2004, if I was 41 and Ben Cameron was still at TCG.

I’m frankly surprised I wrote anything this cogent. I remember feeling only furious and foolish, that awful combination where you know somehow it’s all your own fault but you can’t figure out exactly how.

Anyway, here's the rant:

Either they don’t get it or I don’t. Either new work and new forms and young artists are perfectly fine and taken care of or their welfare is not up to us at all. The entire weekend colored by the disorienting, umanning feeling of encountering smart, successful people in my own industry: arts leaders, curators, programmers, and having nothing to say to them. Having no common experience. As if we had lived through completely different times.

Must remember that this was organized by successful nonprofits, Shakespeare and Company, etc. The nonprofit universe they live in has provided well for them. It’s a universe filled with smart people, alarmed people, aware people. They don’t need to be told that there is a crisis. They are dealing with the crisis with the strategies and vocabulary of their world. They’ve survived over forty years with this approach.

The problem might be that I have never been in that universe, not as an artist or a producer. I’ve grown up next to that universe, knowing a lot of the people, but never really knowing or respecting that culture. I’ve developed a deep distrust of that universe and a dismissive attitude towards it without ever really understanding it. It’s a complicated, ambivalent emotional attitude. I never joined that club.

I don’t have a club.

I’m 41 years old, have been working in New York theatre actively for 12 years and I can’t think of one ally I can call. Most people in the business know my name but don’t know my work. I have never adequately been able to describe my style. I feel there are reservoirs of creativity and resources and people I could pull together, but I don’t know what to do with these things.

I’m tired of not liking, of actively hating the industry I work in.

I feel too old to still be a malcontent.

And my strategy, to the extent that it exists, is fuzzy. If Ben Cameron said, here, take the reins, what would I do? I don’t want those reins, don’t want to drive that stagecoach, because, again, it works for those people and those institutions. I have to actively stop looking at that world and worrying about it and letting it anger me and be mature about it. Use it, accept it and work around it.

So, what do I want? To run a massive institution and die a cultural icon? To write a recognized American masterpiece? To articulate a new American style? To run the hippest venue in New York and 20 years from now be Grandpapa Fringe?

Figure you got 30 years, probably only 25. Still a long time. Start by knowing where you are.

My theater has always been generous, direct, engaged. Present. Keeping the focus on humans in front of humans. Low to no-tech. Text-driven, rhythm focused. Power of imagination. Blurring of performer/character. Open, easy acknowledgement of audience. No effort of creating illusion.

Start there.


Rose said...

Oh John, stumbled on your blog again after having lost it somehow. Your little rant reminds me of how much I love you and Nancys work. God I want you to direct a show in NYC that I can see. And soon. SO SOON. I miss your work. Miss how amazing it is. Miss you both and all your talented crazy fun-ness. Hugs and happy holidays!


John said...

Well, damn Rose. That's a nice thing to read. Everyone, Rose is my 103 year old aunt who lives out in Forest Hills.

No. Rose rocks.

We'll have something going on at the end of February, at least a reading. And then, who knows?

Enjoy the holidays yourself, Rosie.