Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Emperor's Clothes

Really just a question today. It's remarkably easy to think that 'the problem' or at least 'a problem' with 'American Theatrical Criticism' is that it is too conservative. That it represses artists seeking to explore new avenues et cetera. And I'm sure that happens. But I wonder if a more accurate concern is the fear of being on the wrong side of history. If there is, in fact, a desperate desire to be right about the next big thing, to be the critic or the artist that creates or defends the new method or maker that changes theatrical history. And if this anxiety is responsible for the pop and fizzle of new companies and ideas, brought to attention before they're ripe or remarkable for their alterity rather than their excellence.

That is all.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

CO2 Pressurized

Meta is a word that people like to use a lot these days. I remember the first time I heard the word "metatheater" it was in a Shakespeare class in college and a grad student was throwing that thing around like it was going out of style. I cannot, for the life of me, remember what play we were talking about. The best part was when another grad student, clearly not one to be left out, asked in the most pretentious way possible, "What are we meaning when we say 'metatheater'?" Clearly what she meant was, "What the hell are you talking about?" But I think obfuscation is the first rule of an English Ph.D. program and she was flexing her muscles.

Anyway, when we use 'meta' to mean a thing that comments on itself I like that onstage. It's such great gymnastics to see it work well: to demand disbelief and belief at the same time. Fantastic. This is good also, because unlike a lot of uses of 'meta' this is one that engages the audience rather than celebrates the makers.

I don't blog about blogging, and I don't like movies about moviemaking (with the exception of State and Main, which is so joyously spiteful it just makes me ecstatic). I hate poetry about poets, I'm always disappointed when the main character in something is a writer. There are, of course, an awful lot of plays about playmaking. And my gut reaction is to dismiss them, but I think I might be crazy.

Why do I think this? I heard an ad on the radio today for the new Miller Lite Home Draft system. This is a keg for your fridge that is "CO2 Pressurized" to keep your beer tasting fresh etc. etc.

Why don't they just say 'pressurized'? I don't know how CO2 works. Isn't CO2 poisonous? A little bit? But Miller Lite's millionaire ad executives decided it was worth pointing out to me. Why?

I think it's because now I feel like an expert. I admit that when I first heard the ad on the radio I thought, "well how does this stay fresh?" Now I know. I guess. What they've done is commodified the process. What I imagine is a pretty mundane scientific technique has been turned into a selling point. The logic goes, one of the neat things about this is the way that it's done.

I suppose this is what the appeal is - to an audience - of musicals like Kiss Me Kate, Chorus Line, 42nd Street, etc. The argument is inclusiveness, shedding light on the way a beloved thing is made. Extending an opportunity to "be an expert" on Broadway musicals in the way that I'm an expert in CO2 Pressurizing or, frankly, Broadway musicals. Now when someone who has seen 42nd Street goes to see another play they'll be doing so with an understanding - fictional as it may be - of how it came to the stage. That's actually meaningful, I think.

I still don't like these plays, and I don't think this realization will change my opinion. I just find them so sickeningly self-glorifying. Perversely, in High School I was in three plays like this. Kiss Me Kate, 42nd Street, and Moon Over Buffalo. Isn't that odd? But the thing is, doing those plays made us feel like we were a part of the action, the big-town big-budget action. That self-glorification was, perhaps, exactly the point.