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November 13, 2007

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Ken

I don't think Rayner is ever going to find what he's looking for, for what is politically conservative art? There is most certainly aesthetically conservative art, which is predictable, safe, and familiar, but that's not what he seems to want. Rayner seems to be seeking out theater that will forthrightly ridicule the usual right-wing bugaboos: profligate social programs, bumptious immigrant groups, etc. He wants plays that specifically target the Left. But who will write them? Would a fervent right winger (who--if the ones I've met are any indication--more than likely sees theater as a frivolous and slightly pointless pursuit) bother, when he/she could just pen an essay for one of the many conservative magazines/journals that proliferate on our newsstands? Art (in the humble opinion of this blog commenter) is about questions, not answers. It should challenge comfortable assumptions, not reinforce them. It really should have no great reverence for the past and its institutions. It should make a case for doubt and uncertainty. Does any of this sound like something a true political conservative would want anything to do with? It's probably a stretch to say that art is, by its nature, of the left, but I'm finding it damned hard to imagine a play advocating some right-wing position that would have any value AS A PLAY. Even a play that aligned perfectly with my political beliefs (far left of center, if you couldn't guess) but was dramaturgically dead would be of no use to me. Theater created just to balance some perceived inequality in the dissemination of propaganda is not going to be good theater.

Mac

Isaac, this is a phenomenally well-written post. My last two full-length plays were very deliberately critiques of liberalism written by a liberal, so this issue is of importance to me.

Here's an awful thought - the Bush-style right-wing would never bother creating art to advocate their policies. That's because they care about their policies actually being enacted. So they use effective methods: talk radio, evangelical mega-churches, 24-hour news networks, winning elections - because they care about the policies...

...while many on the left care more about the art than the policies, so they create movies that tank and plays that don't get seen by anyone who will change anything.

How's this for an idea? The Right doesn't have plays because the Right *doesn't need them.*

This is what I think about when I'm grumpy.

Alison Croggon

Hmm. You should really check out the Guardian theatre blog for some interesting discussion on this, guys. As well as Andrew Haydon and Andy Field's blogs.

Abe Pogos

Isaac,

I fully agree with your last point:

"I just think broadening our definitions of what we mean when we say "political theatre" might be a worthwhile project."

I'll quote George Hunka from his recent review of the Barker play, A Hard Heart, as he articulates that notion better than me.

"Political drama is not necessarily reducible to simple ideological constructs of right and left, good and bad, democratic and fascistic, nor is political relevance merely the naming of names of political leaders or the location of cities on a map. Political drama can explore rather than describe, can locate historical rhythms rather than wallow in self-justification or the simple accusations of guilt. When it does so, political drama begins to slip its definition as political and edges into the more rarified regions of tragedy or comedy; it eludes the label of agit-prop and instead of calling for revolution in the streets it calls for revolution in the mind, the spirit, the emotions. A profounder, more radical revolution of the body politic, in all the implications of that term."

cgeye

Conservative theatre already exists.

The chitlin circuit, with the same FOX NEWS/TV formula of social licentiousness whiplashed to lugubrious piety; plays held in megachurches (camels get rented, Nativities get staged, offerings are made, in a house just as big as the bus n' truck auditorium); revues held by private organizations, with enough song and dance to satisfy a Bway addict. Oh, and let's factor all the corporate and convention shows employing non-union, fresh-faced singers and dancers, extolling the American Way of Life.

One way we can tell a piece of theatre is conservative: It makes Money. Or, it's flat out paid for by an interest group, that sees it as useful propaganda. No in-betweenness regarding artistic merit, or having it stand on its own. As said above, when the Right wants something to happen, it pays for it.

isaac

Wow, great comments, folks. Abe, I would say that I disagree with George that internal change is more "profound" than external change, although I do believe that theatre might be *more* prone to causing the former rather than the latter.

Mac, thanks for your kind words. And I have to say, that it doesn't take a dark hour for me to agree with your sentiments at times. I remember saying during the whole are-college-too-liberal "look, conservatives have EVERYTHING ELSE... is it really that problematic that we get colleges?" ANd I think your points nicely sync up with Ken's about why would a conservative write the kind of play Rayner is looking for...

... and CGEye, thanks for that bracing list of examples of Conservative Theatre. I think part of the issue is that we only view certain experiences as valid forms of "theatre" and that closes our eyes to the kinds of everyday theatre that people experience, from Nativity plays (probably the most commonly experienced theatrical performances) which is probably evident of a certain kind of closemindedness and conservatism on our own part...

So much good material! keep it coming!

stefzad

Broadening our definition of political theatre ... or narrowing it. It seems what Rayner wants is more conservative playwrights. (Although I think most of those people are off training to be ministers.) I would say the liberal or open-minded writer is more apt to explore all sides of an issue, or all characters in a play, but I think the recent trend in liberal skewed work is a direct result of the country and mess in which we have been living the last 7 years. Perhaps It's preaching to the choir, or maybe it is our way of keeping our point of view on the table, taking these issues into our evening conversations. We have a very lazy liberal class. We are not taking to the streets, we are not affecting much change, (our elected leaders are too scared to follow through in giving an immigrant a drivers license). Maybe we need to be reminded of what we stand for.

Rosie Jaillet

Surely the Right is as broad a spectrum as the left from 'Cosy Right wingers' like Chris Pattern to Nazi's and from 'Soft Lefties' Like Hilary Clinton to Communism.
Therefore to assume that the only genuine and progressive criticism can come from the left is incredibly narrow minded.

Maybe the reason that we only ever seem 'warm bath theatre' from Conservatives is if they ever say anything remotely controversial they are branded 'Fascist' or some other 'ism'. But actually if you look the regimes of Hitler (and Stalin) they were characterised by their denial of multiple view points.

By refusing to even comission or produce right wing plays the theatrical establishment is engaging in a form of censorship even more insidious than McCarthyism.

In the last year Channel Four has produced three dramas sympathetic to child molesters, one sympathetic to Terrorists and one to child murderers. If we can question the ‘grey areas’ in these issues why not say Immigration?

Further more I do not think a play on the above subject would give further gris to the BNP, far from it. By shining a light on these issues in a thoughtful and intelligent matter - we wrestle the debate back from the hands of the racists, and those that use it for cheap politcal point scoring.

isaac

Rosie,

I don't mean this offensively, but I'm unsure how closely you read my post. I go to great lengths to make it clear that I'm not arguing that the *only* valid criticism comes from the Left. I observe instead that the only valid criticism of the English left-of-center consensus that Rayner will allow *has to be right wing*. A criticism that came from further to the left wouldn't matter to him.

Also, Progressivism (in the US anyway) is a specific term that has to do with lefty politics, so by definition a progressive criticism *can't* come from the Right.

And Rosie, I would also disagree that anything going on here is more insidious than McCarthyism. That kind of Right Wing Victim Speech-- where the dominant discourse coopts the language of the people they've dominated-- drives me nuts.

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