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October 23, 2007

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Paul Rekk

Call me hopelessly naive (although, most would say the same about protestors the world is lacking), but I think we gotta cut out the middle man and fuck shit up ourselves.

I'll cede that this is a reactionary rather than carefully considered comment, but seriously, who's to stop us from doing shit our way?

- Is it money? If you hold up for 'financial reasons' you're falling into the consumerism trap, because no matter your situation, someone has done more with less.

- Potential legality issues? Know your own code of ethics and stick to it. Government and art will never go hand in hand; which is more important to you?

For me, donating money seems like a cop out -- that's for the people who can't do anything but donate money. I'll give my time and my love and my passion and my strength and my talent to those I want to succeed. I would hope that they would do the same for me. I'll save the scant few dollars I have to buy them a beer afterward. It's all karmic.

Callie Kimball

I'm with you, Paul.

We need to get out into our communities and make our work relevant. It's such a huge thing to build art in the first place, but it's important to remember that it's just as important to have an impact outside the theatre.

So I think Step Two is figuring out what your niche interest is, then assessing your personal skillset and then Start Getting Shit Done.

Most people probably know about this organization, but Americans for the Arts (www.artsusa.org) keeps people in the loop with their organized efforts to increase arts funding. It always gives me a little shot of hope when I read what they're up to.

Joshua James

Attack the issues . . .

We can change the tone and course of the conversation.

For example, Bush is pretty much thought a liar by the majority of the population . . . that happened because he lied, sure, but also because of a relentless pounding by those who will not let go of that fact of his dishonesty, whether it be comedians, op ed writers or bloggers . . . we're relentless on those issues.

Especially bloggers.

One change from 2004 to 2006 was the presence and power of blogs . . . blogs had a far, far bigger impact on the latest election than before, and we'll see an even greater impact in 2008 . . .

Just like talk radio was an incredible tool for conservatives, one which changed the national conversations, blogs are proving to be very powerful for the left . . . it's easy for us to read a short op ed and email a link to our friends - passing the message along . . . it's virtually impossible these days for a candidate to say something and not get fact-checked by WIDELY READ blogs . . .

So we attack dishonesty and hypocrasy wherever and whenever we see it, we attack it and tear it down.

We make that act a part of our country's national consciousness and conversation, and pretty soon it will initiate change - in the sixties, they had to march to get attention, they had to march to get on the evening news and let people know there's a problem in the government.

Marches have proven not to be too effective, these days. But we can still have an impact thru ideas and communication.

It's already working.

isaac

Hey Josh,

I appreciate your input... here's my question...

my question was acutally about theatre, not politics. Do you think what you wrote is also applicable there?

Joshua James

Sigh.

I dunno . . . to tell the truth, I'm kinda of on a hiatus from theatre . . . I decided right before my son was born I needed a break, and since I was working on a screenplay, it seemed like a good time to do so.

I may come back to it, I may not . . . it's something I've been mulling the past few months . . . in all honesty, I've had so many negative experiences (not all, but many) with regard to getting my work out there, and finding a home for it, and especially when it comes to the process of putting theatre up, that it has me wondering, on a personal level, if what I get out of theatre is worth the effort I put in.

I love a lot of it . . . Truly the high of connecting with a live audience is a profound experience, and I'd guess the reason we all do this . . .

But there are problems with our industry, which is why you asked your question, I'm sure . . . and there are so many other venues more welcoming than theatre, which seems to me to be very unfriendly, a lot of the time, to the writer, and so I wanted to take a break before I got completely burned out.

It's a reason I blog about some of the topics I do . . . in particular, how badly burned the writer, who is the original artist, has been treated overall.

But I don't want to go too far into it, blogging-wise, until I know for certain whether or not I'll follow Laura's example and completely focus on other areas of writing.

I'm not ready to walk away, just yet, I've loved it too much. But definitely we need time away from each other.

So maybe I'm not able to offer anything constructive to this discussion at this time.

isaac

Au contraire, Josh (is that how you spell Au Contraire?) I think the malaise you are describing (and experiencing, and I'm sorry about that, buddy!) is the theatrical version of the malaise that the left 'sphere is discussing!

Alison Croggon

All of you should get hold of Naomi Woolf's book The End Of America: Letter to a Young Patriot. It's a very impressive piece of rhetoric, and to my mind what the American Left should have been doing years ago. Also she has some interesting things to say about bloggers.

Joshua James

The left is disappointed becuz the democrats they elected have totally turned on them and let them down - the dems are content to let bush fuck everything up, knowing that the worse he does means the better they do in 08 . . . the future of their party is more important than the futures of the men and women who will die in Iraq over the next two years.

Sad, but true.

The malaise I feel about theatre is different - like I said before, I don't know, on a personal level, if theatre is worth the time spent on it, not just for me but for all of us . . . I simply don't know and I used to know that it was, but now I don't know.

The left, I think, KNOWS what happened. I do.

Scott Walters

I guess I don't quite understand what you're asking. Are you asking why theatre people don't "do something" about the current theatrical malaise? If that's the question (is it?), I guess I'd say that doing something requires a level of courage that is difficult for most people to consider. It means confronting the powers that be, rejecting the status quo and the chance of success that goes with it, and creating a new game with rules and purpose that appeal to you. It means determining what matters to you, and then making the commitment to following those things through. There is a wonderful book I've read of late called "The Answer to How Is Yes" that empowers you to undertake change by questioning yourself about what commitments you need to make, how you contribute to the problem, and what refusals you have postponed (among other things). Me? I'd start with the latter -- what refusals have you postponed? And go from there. I think you have to look inside first, rather than blaming "them." Anyway, get the book. It might start you moving forward.

Joshua James

"I guess I'd say that doing something requires a level of courage that is difficult for most people to consider."

I find these words somewhat confrontational . . .

Scott Walters

Johnua -- I didn't mean them confrontationally. I am speaking from my own experience. It is very, very hard to go outside the established way of doing things. It is scary, and often isolates you. It requires a level of confidence that far exceeds the norm. Hell, it's hard enough just living within the norm! As you have oft noted, Joshua, I am a tenured professor. If, however, I find myself out of step with my departmental colleagues -- and I do -- and if I have an idea for a different way of approaching theatre education and/or the creation of theatre -- and I do -- doing something about it might require my giving up the security of my teaching position to either go somewhere else or leave academia entirely... I doubt whether I would have the courage to take those steps. To do so would require a level of courage far above the norm. I used to think I had that courage -- now, I don't know. The velvet cage. For professional artists who have far less security than I have, the dangers are even greater. When a part of your success depends not only on your talent, but on your positive acquaintances, it would be difficult, it would seem to me, to risk taking an oppositional stance against anybody or any institution because at some point they may have the power to hire. Better to "play well with others." I think Laura Axelrod, for instance, answered the question "what refusal have you postponed" not long ago -- she said no to blogging about theatre and writing plays. She faced her feelings, and instead of blaming others and asking them to change, she took responsibility for her own actions and made a choice. In essence, she removed herself from a community where she had some level of respect and admiration. On the other hand, I spend and inordinate amount of my personal energy bitching about my colleagues and the "way we do things" instead of doing something to change it within my own life. I have to take responsibility for my own actions instead of expecting my colleagues to change to the way I want them to be. Which doesn't mean shrugging, accepting the way things are, and learning to live with it. It means figuring out what matters to me and acting on that. I'm not trying to accuse anybody of cowardice. Not in the least.

Joshua James

Fair enough, Scott -

There are a number of talented people I know who have put everything on the line, courageously, without health insurance or job security, who live day to day chasing their dream . . . I know many people like that.

They get stopped not because they lack courage. They get stopped because, I think, because there are less opportunities than before, less risk by producer/ suit people and director / suit people - they get stopped because, and this is just my opinion, theatre is mired in the past and not very interested in the future . . .

It's courage to face long odds to pursue your dream.

It's sometimes wise to realize that the dream one thought they had isn't the dream available to them, and to readjust accordingly . . .

For example, I began as an actor, and became a writer.

Tom Fontana began as a playwright and became a television writer / creator.

If theatre isn't proving worthy to me, than there's nothing wrong with readjusting, I think.

Scott Walters

Yes, Josh, I know those people too. And I admire them a great deal. And it does take great courage to pursue your dreams -- as someone who teaches courses about the hero's journey, I know that anything that is worth pursuing is filled with danger. I would never downplay the kind of courage it takes to doggedly pursue a dream. If I learned anything from "How to Change the World" (another great book, this one about social entrepreneurship, that I recommend to anyone looking for inspiration) is that sheer determination is the first thing necessary to accomplish anything. But one of the things the book I recommended, "The Answer to How is Yes," recommends is to go beyond blaming Them or need Them to change before you can do anything. In fact, expect that they WON'T change, and then figure out how to move forward. Some may look for ways to work within the system (that's what I realize I am trying to do), others try to create a new way outside the system (that's what I would LIKE to do).

I have spent a lot of energy trying to persuade people to change their values. Whether on my blog, or in my department, I have committed myself to trying to get people to change their attitudes, to share my values. And I have started to believe that this is a waste of time. That I should be focused on creating a model, putting my ideas into action, and then embrace anyone who finds themselves inspired by that model to join me. The fact is that my departmental colleagues are not going to change. If I wait for them to do so before I follow my own beliefs and ideas, I will be stuck and frustrated until I retire. So I have to ask myself: how do I do what I want to do within this structure? Do I have to follow my heart IN ADDITION to doing what I have to do for the department? That will require a commitment of time and energy above what already seems, at times, overwhelming -- am I willing to do that? If so, is there anything I could say no to that would help me regain time and energy for what matters most to me? And what am I doing that is making the problem worse?

I'm finding this focus on me rather than others as being personally empowering. I don't have to change the world FIRST, I can change it by following my own vision. Which brings me back to Buckminster Fuller -- a quotation I have used before, but which didn't seem as powerful as it does now: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Joshua James

Scott, I appreciate you sharing this -

That may be the differential that has caused so much havoc . . . teaching youngsters to change their values is part and parcel of your profession, as I well know . . . however, most of us working have arrived where we're at because of values we discovered when we were the age of your students . . . and take issue that it's our values that have been an obstacle to us . . .

I think sharing your values is a more valuable way to create a conversation that convincing us to change ours . . . so it's good to hear that from you.

And just as your dept hamstrings you, in some respect, so does the "established" theatre limit many of us working in the arts here in nyc . . . so we have that in common.

And some of us produce our own work (as I have done in the past) some of us write blogs and some of us look to other venues for our work for fulfillment.

As I said, I'm in the midst of deciding, for myself and no one else, whether or not I want to continue to put time into this industry, if it's worth it.

That's me.

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