Friday, August 8, 2008

Justify my Show?

There really is a commonly held belief that a new production of an old show has somehow to justify its existence and while I have covered this a little bit before, I think I want to tackle it again.  On one level I like the discipline of such a belief, and I think having producers and directors deeply ask themselves before embarking on a new production, "why do I get to do this?"  might aid in the avoidance of some bad work.  But the troubling thing about this tendency is that it misunderstands the theatrical experience (and excellence) to a rather stunning degree.  That is, it understands scripts as the fundamental unit of theater and theater, then, as a principally literary form--something to be read in a high-school class, or puzzled over in a library carol--defined by direct discourse immediately delivered by characters taking opposing sides in a struggle.  This misses the whole point!  Theater is something that happens on a stage with actors and an audience, and a script, while helpful, has long been proven inessential to a play.  An author has written a script.  Great.  But it isn't theater until it is recited onstage.  The real thing to justify is reading it in a classroom.  

Moreover, I fear the present necessity of justifying revivals has actually led to an unfortunate anxiety about them, an anxiety which has forced people instead of making excellent productions to resort to elaborate ideas.  These ideas distinguish shows and sell them, make a narrative about why a new production is relevant or necessary but distract from the truth.  The truth is that the play--not the production--is relevant and necessary; if it weren't it wouldn't be worth doing again.  The "idea production" will only be a game of smoke and mirrors to distract from the play itself unless the decisions are motivated and excellent.  One should only ever need to say, "I saw an excellent production of Hamlet last night," not "I saw a Hamlet set on Mars last night."  Could a great Hamlet be done on Mars? Well, yes, of course.  But Mars won't make it great.  Good acting, good direction, good design, and by god, a damn fine script will make it a good show.  Whatever gets in the way of these things will be deadly.

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