By Isaac Butler
I seem to be noticing a rising tide in posts, columns, conversations, tweets, facebook status updates etc. that are driving me nuts. They are all well meaning, and genuine, I mean nothing against their writers, which is why I'm not linking to any of them. But holy god, does this madness have to stop.
What madness is that, you ask? Why, it's the constant drumbeat for theatre to stop being theatre and to start being... something else. Perhaps theatre should be like a video game. Or like a Mexican Wrestling Match. Or like a haunted house. Or like a rock concert. Or like a book. Or like a video game again. Or like a magical bassoon that's filled with ticket sales and gum drops and only plays Smokey Robinson's Tears Of A Clown.
Look, borrowing from other mediums is very important. Learning from a wide variety of art forms, ditto. Cross pollination is one of the major ways that innovation happens. As a nonfiction writer, I've certainly learned as much from documentaries, nonfiction comics and The Civilians as I have from prose nonfiction. But in writing a book, I'm not going to ask myself how do I make this so much like a video game that I'll trick people into reading it.
Theatre isn't a video game. It's not a rock concert. It's not a magical bassoon. All of those work in different ways, and while there are lessons to be learned from each, let's have a little fucking self-respect, okay?
There are things theatre does better than any other medium or art form, and that's what we should be focusing on. If we're borrowing from other forms and media, we've still got to get back to the fundamental things that theatre does well. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is awesome not because it replicates a wrestling match, but because it uses wrestling forms and tropes to enhance its own theatricality and tell and awesome story in three dimensions in real time with regard for its audience.
If you'd rather be a rock musician, go take some classes from that guy who fliers all the bodegas. If you'd rather be writing video games, there are ways to do that.
I would like to ask for a new rule for theatre commentary: if you're going to talk about how theatre needs to be more like [X Other Thing] then you have an obligation to do the following:
(1) Find and list the concrete aspects of [X Other Thing] that are adaptable to theatre
(2) Explain how that list actually relates to theatre instead of your own desire to work in a popular and well-liked art form.