If a dollar was donated every time the “death of theatre” was discussed, I’m sure there’d be a hefty actor’s retirement fund available somewhere, but the question of survival really has to be addressed in a month in which we see two of the generation’s best playwrights in the credits.
By this Friday, the multiplex will be showing both Lincoln, penned by Tony Kushner, and Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Anna Karenina. This is not a new venture for either, Stoppard has about three dozen film & TV credits, and while Kushner has far fewer, he commented on the impossibility of supporting himself as a playwright in the past.
To be sure, neither of them has given up on theatre, and switched genres completely, but I can’t help but feel that the time spent on the movie projects is time taken from stage drama. This is also not mere snobbery. I will happily attend both film, and the Christmas season will see me waiting in line for the release of Les Misérables. However, what none of these experiences will have is the sense of community that live theatre brings.
It was a feeling of dialog that attracted me to writing drama over fiction and poetry, and actors in a stage show come together to create something, they don’t leave in hopes of becoming a star Though film doesn’t have the same human element, what it has in spades is spectacle. Aristotle thought that was the least important element of drama. I wonder if he’d say the same were he around today.
The community issue is a concern I’ve had here in New Orleans as well. In a town where the black population is double that of the white, the theatre audiences I’ve seen are about 90% white. August Wilson’s Seven Guitars just opened this weekend, and I expect to see a more integrated audience there, but still. Am I just seeing the wrong shows, or is theatre not connecting with the people of this city?
Next week is Fringe Week, and I’ll be both volunteering and attending shows. I’ll be curious to see if the connection is different for the alternative scene as opposed to commercial theatre, though NOLA theatre seems to be pretty non-commercial already.