Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Recession and the Arts, Ctd.

It occurs to me that I'm probably being much to snobby in my dismissal of popular plays like Doubt, Proof, etc., although The Rabbit Hole managed to irritate me quite a bit). I will instead redirect my objection away from these kinds of plays (which I might call Pulitzer-bait, but nevermind), and not even the plays themselves, but to the theaters staging them. For these plays are by far some of the most produced in the country, and I could have guessed this just by personal experience. I was in a community college production of The Laramie Project; my high school put it on the following year; my community college did Proof the same year we went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and saw The Rabbit Hole; and last year Boise Contemporary Theater did a reading of Doubt.

The fact of the matter is there is far more to the theater world than the ten or so plays on the WSJ's list and on Broadway's marquees. Not even taking into account the neglect of new works (there was a recent study published on how financial solubility is becoming more impossible for contemporary writers, but for the life of me I can't find it), there are plenty of under-appreciated gems of old that don't try so hard to wrap themselves up in respectability. But respectability is the name of the game, as theaters are chasing what they think audiences want. Middle-class domestic melodrama.

I'm plenty cynical about it all, but I would like to think audiences are savvier than we give them credit for. Granted, the success of middle-of-the-road approaches would suggest they don't want to be pushed out of their comfort zone, but might it be that we haven't tried enough to know? I would bet audiences are willing and curious enough to take anything on, provided it's done well, and the reason they eat up the popular Tonybait plays is that we don't give them any alternatives.

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