Monday, September 20, 2010

Self-help and the OOB theatre artist

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, David Johnston

I read an article in The New Yorker last week. It was about that
self-help book, “The Secret,” one of those books that teaches you to
“think” yourself rich, you’re an amazing creature, God wants you to
have nice stuff, etc etc. It’s a very popular book. I’ve never read
it. To be honest, self-help books annoy the crap out of me. Their
aura of smugness puts me right off. Sometimes people are sitting in
cars and a tree falls on them, and impoverished children in other
countries starve to death or die in floods, and it’s distasteful to
sit in our fat wealthy country and chalk it up to “negative thinking”
on the part of the victim.

But this New Yorker article also dealt with some of the backlash from
this book. (Hooray! Backlash!) Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in her new
book, “Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America”
(which I also have not read) how books like “The Secret” offend her,
too. What offends her is the notion that “poverty is a voluntary
condition.” I’d probably like Barbara Ehrenreich.

But it got me to thinking about those of us who work in Off Off
Broadway in New York. We work in an impoverished field. We don’t have
money and we certainly don’t have nice stuff. We’re passionately
devoted to an art form that the overwhelming majority of people in
this country couldn’t care less about. I don’t have the stats right
here. It’s early in the morning, and I’m drinking coffee and my
wireless keeps going out because the neighbors keep changing their
password. So I’m not going to look it up right now. Plus, I’ve got
to go to the post office and send off this application that I’ve been
putting off. God, I need a few days to catch up on everything. Where
was I? Oh yeah. We’re negligible in terms of cultural impact, and
most people think we should really stop this and get a job.

But we work hard and we do it because we love it and we think we have
something to say or we have an idea. It’s a good role, someone’s
going to give us a break on the space, the script isn’t perfect but
the writer needs a production and how’s he going to learn otherwise?
It’s tough and heartbreaking and the rewards are small. But if my
lips twitch in anger in a Barnes and Noble as I pass by racks and
racks of “The Secret,” it’s because I’m saying to the writer, “Nobody
chose this poverty. We live in a system. We love this art form, this
discipline. We also live in a society that doesn’t value it. We
didn’t make that. But we don’t see any reason to stop doing what we
love just because a society or political system is indifferent.”

Yes, I frequently stop in the stacks at Barnes and Noble and have
conversations with the author who isn’t there. Don’t judge.

So this week, folks, when the world around says “you need to think
like a business,” or “you would have more money and resources if you
adjusted your attitude” or “have you thought about law school?” – the
everlasting chorus of “no” that surrounds you whenever you try to
create something – this week, dear reader, I hereby give you (and
myself) permission to cut a break. Give a pat on the back. Thank all
the negating voices for their time and tell them you will keep them on
file for the next project.

You’re doing just fine. Keep doing what you do. The world around us
is what needs fixing.

David J