David Cote threw down a bit of a gauntlet last week on TONY's blog. I have still been recovering from The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist as well as trying to be in a concentrated pre-production process for my next show (watch this space!) and starting up work again on that race in American Politics project (in other words making money so I can do theatre) and so it's all been a bit hectic.
5. Bloggers: Engage/enrageThis item will generate noise (and that’s the point): I wish bloggers would mix it up more. Does it take a Rachel Corrie fiasco to generate heat? The theater blogosphere has been dull, insular and quiet lately. We need more arguments, more dirt, more bloody knock-down-drag-out fights. Not just self-promotion, obscure manifestos and production diaries. And here’s hoping for a new breed of long-form critics worth reading.
The hard part is that theater blogging is the weirdest and most contradictory genre of blogging there is. It's a publicly and internationally available exchange of ideas over events that can only be experienced locally. Isaac can host a debate on Watchmen on his blog, but not on the awesome and actually kind of important Dan Trujillo play he just directed, 'cause only local people can even see and experience the Trujillo play. We can't know what Travis or Alison or Don Hall would have thought. They could all read the script, maybe, but not share the event. It's hard to write in a mass media platform about a local, site-specific event. People are still figuring out how to share what they do.
And this makes the conversation that much harder.
There is, of course, a subliminal, subconscious pecking order in the blogosphere (in case you hadn’t noticed), which places those people blogging in NYC about NYC theatre (indie and otherwise) as those people who are blogging about the “real” action in theatre. Like most sociological phenomena, it wasn’t consciously created; it just came to be, rather like gender bias. So no matter how much we attempt to “engage and enrage” with the bloggers of NYC, no one there is truly going to take anyone outside the city seriously if we make any suggestions about theatre or how to reform it. I mean, when was the last time you read about a panel on theatre bloggers and theatre blogging which had as one of its participants a blogger from outside NYC? Bloggers like myself who blog outside the realm of NYC are even more on the outside than someone like 99 Seats.
There's some right and a whole lotta wrong with this paragraph. I agree that there is a subliminal pecking order in the blogosphere to some extent, and that it arose somewhat organically. I don't think it's only NYC-based, though. I think the Chicagoans are also given quite a lot of weight. And I do believe that theatre in New York Skewed and I think that's problematic, I've written about that many times here. However, there's a perfectly mundane reason why theatre blogging panels don't tend to include non-NYC writers... they don't have budgets. The most I've ever been paid for a panel appearance is $20. The last time I was on a panel, I was paid in books. The subjects of the panels also tend to be New York Centric. The last one I was on was about The New York Times and the Internet and New York Theatre Coverage.
The biggest problem with NYC theatre – one Mr. Cote fails to mention – is that it is doing nothing more than perpetuating the notion, held by the nation at large, that theatre is, by and large, a gay art form written by effete, white, upper-middle-class liberal types who are concerned largely with musicals and with plays where whining characters can’t look up from gazing at their navels long enough to get a real life. It has nothing to say to anyone outside NYC or its own practitioners. It is, furthermore, wholly unconcerned with communicating with ordinary people about national problems such as high unemployment, recession, Wall St. terrorism, unending and useless wars, government secrecy and illegality, racism, poverty, or other national ills (unless, of course, we can turn these topics into a musical). If it does do this, it does so only in a way its own practitioners can understand. It believes we should all be watching 7 hours of Les Ephemeres.
It's kind of hard to respond to vague jeremiads (particularly ones that might not be sincere, but I'll take the bait, what the fuck why not). First off, I really hope Tom didn't mean to argue that we need to purge teh gay from American Theatre to make it popular again. Second, I think there's some stuff in there I might be sympathetic to (i don't like watching irrelevant theatre for upper middle class types that has nothing to say, for example). But it's hard to respond without any kind of examples (outside of Les Ephemeres, which doesn't really fit the description of the work Tom doesn't like.