Monday, January 31, 2011

A Play, Onwards!

Wallace Shawn, an OBIE Award-winning playwright, writer, and star of stage and screen, talks about his life in the theatre and the relationship between art and politics.

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Carolyn Robbins said...

I'm not so believing the statement that only rich people appreciate art. Art is engrained in the fabric of our lives, just as science is, even in its controversy. Appreciating art, is a learned talent too. And it takes great artists to reach out and interpret those who may breakdance in the street or deface property with a spray can. Maybe a playwright is inspired by such things and their stage is another form of art. No matter what you call it, art is all around us and there are many souls who partake in it's absorption and appreciation.

Anonymous said...

8 February 2011

Art--if it is, indeed, High Art, and not, e.g., art-as-entertainment--is about possibilities.

For example, one goes to the Theatre to see JM Barrie's play, Peter Pan. The audience members--accountants, teachers, lawyers, etc.--have the experience of a diversion in spending time with this androgynous character, Tinker Bell, etc. They get to unwind for two hours, decompress from their workaday world, applaud, and go home to sleep, to rest before they return to the routines of their lives. A few--a very few--will find the experience so utterly compelling that they decide then and there to make a change in their lives and pursue a life in the Theatre.

That's the entertainment experience. But what of the experience of High Art--say, the ineffably exalted and rare event of seeing Laurette Taylor in the role she created in Tennesse Williams' A Glass Menagerie? What is the difference between an entertainment and that which is the best that the Theatre has to offer?

The true Art event is rich with complexities that resonate in our own lives as well as the social milieu in which we find ourselves. It can be "read" on many levels--it is more akin to what we know of as our own life experience. We do not merely escape for two hours--i.e., decompress from the often petty nonsense we must endure from day to day--but find that what existentialists, phenomenologists, etc., refer to as our Weltenschauung--i.e., "worldview--is altered for good! Preconceived views, biases, values--our very psychology!--is modified, transformed, even developed, etc. We have, in fact, evolved. Holy writ has it, "Behold, I make all things new." We become renewed.

That culture which brought the Theatre experience to the fore--cultivated it, refined it, amplified it, etc., looked to the event as one might to a spiritual--if not religious--encounter. That is, observers of, e.g., the Oedipus drama would enter the theater with all of their emotional baggage intact and find that after being drawn into the play, and empathizing with the protagonist, etc., that they are able to shed the most debilitating fetures of their own make-up--fear and guilt--through a process of catharsis. They were able to move from the stasis of fear and guilt to empathy/tears and rage--i.e., that life can be so unspeakably, outrageously, mysteriously absurd, at bottom often without rhyme or reason, that it's just not worth the anguish of even caring about day-to-day dilemmas, to the point that we become upset, immobilized with concern, fright, etc. The arrive fearful and guilt-ridden, they leave with rage as "a fire in the belly"--they can go on again.

Again: the great utility of High Art is as that which engenders change. We would go to the Theatre for "an experience," meaning we would go because we recognized and valued the possibility of change in our particular lives. We realized on some level that "there HAS to be more to this than working, paying bills, etc.," and so we opened ourselves to the opportunity of an enriching, significant, moral jarring of our own little world via an aesthetic event--from the Greek aisthtikos "of sense perception," and aesthete, "one who perceives". We WANTED to perceive, to see things we had not noticed before, to think anew, be renewed. We wanted to change. We believed in material change--for ourselves, for the society. Possibilities. High Art as the Marxian "use value."

Anonymous said...


However, because of the sensory overload of entertainment we of the Late Modern era are assaulted by--through corporate information processing centers--that which is proffered as "exchange value", now consumed as our collective unconscious "spiritual" nourishment. We are so ill as a corporate-driven society that we are often not even able to remember that change of any consequence is even possible. We are moved along by the commerce torrent taking in mere diversion as that which sustains us for a few minutes--until the next "hit."

There ARE no real possibilities--not ones that promise material improvement, positive growth, a meaningful altering of the status quo. This is, in fact, the product, of the corporate juggernaut. We are, in effect drugged. Our souls are deadened. We are enervated, spent forces--individually and as a collective. The market status quo to which we are all in thrall does NOT speak of meaningful change--it speaks ONLY in terms of production, production increase, and the market. Those are the "possibilities" being proffered. And, we believe!

There is no High Art as that which speaks to a complex, sensitive being--and collective of same--craving development, enhancement, nurturing, etc., for the next level of conscious experience. To suggest that possibility is to imply subversion of that to which we are in thrall, and to upset the monolith, one-dimensional god of capital.

We are far so from home.