Friday, March 5, 2010

Big Dreams, Right?


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Mac Rogers.

Well, as per usual, big dreams, right? I had this grandiose scheme of writing a brilliant five-part series for my week as an IT blogger, but of course, with a full-time job, opening one show (first preview went great!), prepping for a major benefit (ten years, people!), and trying to talk to my fiancĂ© every once in a while, I didn’t quite pull it off. So the question becomes what to make my last blog post about.

I have my own blog, but I haven’t written on it in quite some time. I’ve had a chronic, possibly terminal case of what I’ve called “blog choke,” where it wasn’t that I couldn’t come up with anything to write about, but had a nervous nelly meltdown at the idea of making it public. Sometimes I’ve thought the posts were too rushed to be of value, sometimes I thought that maybe they were only substantial in my head and would prove to be pointless and baffling upon public contact, and sometimes I was scared of getting into a fight. Whatever the excuse, I choked every time.

The last time I wrote a blog post that was of any public interest was back in May 2008. The post, “The Safe Zone,” addressed the issues of civility in the theatrosphere and the idea of publicly sharing artistic processes online. This post, and the many wonderful comments that people made on it, started me on a thought process, but it wasn’t until I read and considered James Comtois’s marvelous series on self-producing Off-Off-Broadway that I had started to conceive of how I could possibly return to blogging.

Look, obviously I’m thin-skinned. And I get mad easily, particularly at what I see as insincere behavior. All too often, I feel as though people utilize worthy content – subjects that go to the heart of theater today, and theater into the future – as truncheons with which to bash each other. The point is not the content of the conversation, the content’s a MacGuffin. The point is the bashing. And I don’t write this from a perspective of superiority. I write it because I’ve done it as much or more as anyone else.

There’s no point in asking people to be more civil. It makes them want to be less civil. The theatrosphere can’t go back. It’s big and bad and mean, now, like all the other ‘oshperes. Only the strong will survive. I didn’t survive, because I wasn’t one of the strong.

Why is it worth using my last day on Full of IT to write about this subject? Kinda meta, isn’t it? Blogging about blogging? Well, here’s my justification: this is a blog. A blog devoted to writing about theater, particularly low-budget, independent theater, from a number of perspectives. I’d like to make an argument for the venue itself as being something worthwhile, with a reason to exist. I talked with Adam Szymcowicz on his site about how hard it is to share a site- and event- specific live art form like theater in an online forum, but we have to try. This is our best way to reach each other.

Back to James Comtois’s series. I was talking to my longtime colleague Sean Williams about the admiring and uncontroversial response it elicited, and Sean pointed out, “See, Jimmy didn’t write, ‘Here’s how to do it.’ He wrote, ‘Here’s what we did. Here’s what worked and what didn’t. Here’s what we learned.’” Exactly. James didn’t present himself as some all-knowing oracle here to school the rest of us snots, he presented himself as a struggling, learning, practicing producer of theater, trying stuff and seeing how it works. This encourages a reaction not of, “You’re wrong, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re serving your secret agenda, and I hate you!” but more of “Oh, seriously, you tried that? I always wondered what would happen if you tried that. I on the other hand tried this, and here’s what happened as a result.”

I feel like theater blogging is at its most successful when it’s tied to practice, in some form or another. That doesn’t have to mean playwriting or producing or even the creation of a single play. That can mean the ongoing maintenance of a theater company, that can mean advocacy, that can mean political organization, that can mean any number of things, as long as its some sort of theater-related activity taking place outside of cyberspace. It seems to me that many of the most brutal and least productive fights take place over theory, what each of us thinks all the others should be doing. It’s hard to build on that, because while you’re talking about one-person’s-utopia/another-person’s-hell, it doesn’t exist yet. So there’s no material to work with, no research to share. So the fights have to run on fumes, and without content to burn, personalities and lovingly nursed grudges take over.

The best online theater writing, it seems to me, is almost more like reporting (though of course not impartial): “Here’s what I’m doing to make my utopia come true. Here’s how it’s going. How’s it going at your end?” That doesn’t mean all nicey-nice for wimps like me. A real high-water mark of this form has to be Travis Bedard’s three-part post-mortem of the Cambiare Productions mounting of Orestes:
Deep Well of Forgetting
Food Chain Orestes
What We Have Here is Orestes Post Mortem

These aren’t mean-spirited at all, but they are tough-minded, and certainly must have led Travis into some difficult conversations, but maybe also a more refined artistic process in the future.

Of course we will always need to be able to use blogs for grand theories, manifestoes, and the like. Big dreams, right? I’m not saying those should disappear. But I think the path to a heartier, more sustainable theatrosphere not teetering on personal animosity and blood-feuds lies in using our online venues to talk about what we’re doing (or what we did), why we’re doing it, and how it’s working out. I haven’t done that much myself, even on this blog this week, but I’d like another crack at it. This is how we share the evolution of the art form with each other. None of us is smart enough to figure it out on our own.

Thanks again Shay, Morgan, and the IT Gang.


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