Saturday, April 02, 2011

Relational Aesthetics

There's been heated conversation in the hallowed halls where Youngblood meets about audience, about the death (or life) of theater, about what success means and who has access to it, and about the changing price of whiskey.

There have been passionate claims about which theater spaces we love, and why, and about who comes to see stuff there, and why. (Since, after all, not every audience has the energy -- and size -- of the crowd at a Youngblood brunch.)

The question of who comes to see stuff -- and why -- is important because it can mean the difference between continuing to wait tables and getting to make theater for a living. But it's also important because, hey: Um, why are we doing this stuff again?

There's a part of me that's a big supporter of the Home Theater Festival manifesto. Grants and residencies and big organizations are problematic for some of the reasons stated on this blog. But they're also tricky because they tend to reproduce existing models for presenting theater: rent a space with seats and a grid, advertise, sell tickets for $20, make postcards, go. I've written plays that probably wouldn't work outside of that model -- presented for the elderly, positioned on pogo sticks, on a windy south Brooklyn beach, say. And, frankly, I've got enough on my hands with writing the play and paying rent that I don't really have the time or energy to find a site-specific spot, recruit Basque-speaking non-actors to perform it, and try to drag some (probably perfectly nice but kind of confused) underprivileged young people into the picture so I can say I'm doing "outreach." (Hats off to Chris Sullivan for bringing bands and plays together. And let's hear it for Conkel and Dickens' coatless youths.)

Mostly, it just makes me sad that there are some people who see theater, and other people -- most people -- who just don't. Which isn't true of music. Or movies. Or even books. Most people listen to music. Or watch movies. Or read books. Because they like doing it. And, on a certain level, they think doing it is worthwhile.

I care less about the size of audiences -- though size certainly has a lot to to with the economic feasibility of the project, or at least with the appeal of the project to potential grant-givers (and I'm a fan of the Home Theater Festival for saying f-you to grant-givers on that front) -- than with the fact that people are excited to come to something, and that they come because they think there's a meaningful exchange that might happen.

How do we make that happen? Make theater that people are seriously excited to be a part of, and create opportunities for people to be a part of it?

The answer might be something edgy and pretentious like this bouncing, geriatric Brighton-Beach-in-Basque project that I've got my heart set on (stay tuned...), or it might be as simple as writing plays that are fun, serving beer, having couches, and not charging much money.

Which brings me to Relational Aesthetics. And this video, which I think has all the answers.


joshcon80 said...

Is it wrong that I think he's super hot?

RJ said...

Alex - great collection of the big thoughts. Also, massive thanks for the introduction to Hennessy Youngman. That guy is next level.