Sunday, February 8, 2009

Big Theaters

A loyal reader pointed out to me the other day how often I’ve been picking on the Goodman recently. Let me just say, I love the Goodman Theatre. When I went to see Ruined and A Christmas Carol was playing on the big stage next door, I was confronted with the amazing opportunity of Big Theaters – to reach a big audience and provide entertainment and art of the highest quality. I think we who aggressively support small theaters, the riskier work they do, and the intimacy they provide, too often forget that the true aim of all of this is just excellence. Nothing bigger or smaller than that. When we advocate for small theaters it is because we believe that they are excellent, but we can never be blind to the excellence available at bigger houses.

But when the theater is bad at big houses, boy, do we get to make fun. It reassures us that money is not a guarantee of excellence. It frees artists with less means from thinking of money as the missing piece. In fact, the danger of having too much money – and I really think this is the principal affliction of Hollywood movies – is that too much money permits lazy thinking. It’s what my dad would call playing tennis without a net. Restrictions are resources.

That said, money means a lot. Radio ads that make me feel like I’m being molested, or posters that are so airbrushed they look like a Snoop Dogg album cover are dumb. No way around it, and there’s no excuse. And when the resources of a big house are diddled into laziness and grandiosity, this is sad. I don’t believe that money necessarily makes a show bad, and also, obviously, money doesn’t make a show good. But money in the right hands, should help. At its best, the Goodman, like the other big houses in Chicago, shines as an example of this. At its worst, it should at least be mocked. And it will be.

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