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December 29, 2009


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Thank god for cable television. Honest to blog, USA Up All Night and 120 Minutes had more to do with shaping me as an artist than any old Shakespeare play.

Goodbye monoculture! Don't let the door hit you where the good lord split you!

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist!

I have no idea who won American Idol this year and I don't care.

People worry that the art of theatre and live performances are dying, but I disagree. In fact, I would argue that youtube (and Vimeo) have helped people to have a better appreciation for the arts and would introduce them to something new, something different. Now all you have to do is look up "Kabuki theatre" or "Bali puppet show" and you'll find a clip. This, in turn, will inspire people to read up on this and even get involved.

so in a way, i think youtube is like an archive of the arts, an online musuem of performance arts. anything you wanna watch? a Moliere play performed in Norwegian? It's on youtube.

i dont know if that makes any sense, but yeah.

Paul Rekk

That's an interesting point re: the urgency for diversity. That very easily might be part of it. The 21st century fractalization of pop culture is tremendously interesting to me, and I do feel as though theatre is plodding along most the time, trying to act like it's playing the 'slow and steady' card.

I also wish we would stop claiming this doesn't affect us. We can refuse to let it affect us (and we have been, for the most part) and continue to fall behind, or we can learn how it can and/or will affect us and acquaint ourselves with new, possibly improved ways to navigate the medium in the 21st century.

It's not like the television industry spent its first 50+ years biding its time until Hulu came along. Or the music industry was all like, "Yeah, the Internet! This will be great!" No medium planned for these things, but elsewhere people are learning and playing. Can we in the theatre finally drag our heads out of the sand and learn that this diversification and digitalization is not just a marketing tool, but a creative tool as well?

The true death of the monoculture is so much more advanced in its idea of diversity. We're still focused on genetic differences; the 21st century model of diversity is going to prove to be about aesthetic differences. Yes, the former needs to be solved, but if we can't also see beyond it to the problems we wish we had, I have a hard time seeing us arrive at them before this time next century.

Thomas Garvey

Isaac, you've really GOT to take a course in economics somewhere. In general, the shift toward eking profit out of technological advance means that "rental" costs (labor, housing, etc.) rise (it's a form of what's called "wage-price sickness"). So far, no one has figured out a way around this problem. So yeah, the Internet and Hulu are part of what is making theatre more expensive (and don't forget digital technologies also probably add to wage inequality). Diversity can't change that, so it's not going to affect the economic problems facing theatre.

And I sometimes wonder - do the folks who urge us to discard the greatest works of the past also hope that we discard their own work as soon as possible? If so, at least they're being consistent - still, it seems to be that discarding Josh's work isn't quite like discarding Shakespeare's.


Thomas, your last sentence...well, it just doesn't make sense in terms of what Isaac (or anyone else) is talking about here. Nobody is talking about discarding Shakespeare, Moliere, O'Neill or really anybody. What this conversation is about is making room for things that come from different cultures and adhere to different aesthetics. By jumping right to "discarding Shakespeare," you're really just proving Isaac's point about fear.

Also, I re-read this post a couple of times: he's not saying that YouTube is making theatre more expensive (you may be right about the wage inequality, though). He is talking about wage-price sickness, but saying that it only affects theatre. Other forms of making art become cheaper, but theatre doesn't. But the larger connection to diversity is that if, in theatre, we're dependent on one narrow "culture" for our audience, as other arts expand, we're going to lose out. Which is what seems to be happening. By diversifying our audience (in terms of artistic diversity as well as cultural), we can remain relevant and thrive. What's so hard to grasp there?


I’ve commented before about my belief in our growing Niche Society, so I’m as happy as anyone to bury Majority Culture. To me, its death is just a prelude to re-spreading our cultural seeds, and that begins new and more growth. Then maybe in a hundred years, we’ll do it all over again. C’est la vie.

But, how that effects the price of theater (or doesn’t) got me thinking about the recent post on NYT’s Artsblog: “What Play Changed Your Life?”. When I was reading it there were already 154 comments. Wow, I’ve never seen one of their posts with that many responses (all sans sniping!). It made me think about all the people who have seen a play that really changed them and the way they see the world. And the passion that a lot of the commentors expressed – double wow.

I don’t know if anyone would ever say that about an episode of Seinfeld, any tv show or movie, or any u-tube clip. Theater changes lives, and that’s very special. With the way the world is turning, the price for it will only go up. I’ll pay for that any and every day.

Thomas Garvey

99, I'm not surprised that sentence made no sense to you, and that you simply re-iterated your inner tape loop yet again. (Wait, did Josh not mention Shakespeare? Oh, no - he did.) As for the "fear" smear: why bother refuting it? Your inner needs require you to believe it. As for "making room for different aesthetics" - by all means do so. Make that room. Start a theatre company, go for a grant, and produce some unseen scripts. Hell, produce your own script! I'd be happy to see it; I'm not afraid of it. I'll even come down from Boston specially to see it.


I thought theater *was* staying up on the times, though? Aren't we projecting live performances in movie theaters now? And wasn't the UK reaching out with Digital Theater (http://www.digitaltheatre.com/#/home/)? Perhaps internet viewers can help subsidize the cost of theater for audiences that prefer the intimacy (or are proximate enough to the theater that they can attend).

Actually, the only danger I see is that as theater digitizes itself, it will be up against more and more competition; you won't just have to choose between Broadway plays (the networks) but between UK and Australian theater (premium cable) and perhaps even foreign works (subtitled in real time, which would certainly have the variety of cable), and then archives of older performances (DVD market/Hulu). Revivals could conceivably compete with themselves (though I, for one, would love to see screen-for-screen mash-ups of the 1968 version of a play and the 2010 revival). That might drive tourism down; might in fact turn theater into TV (taped live, in front of a studio audience; is SNL that different from theater?).

And in such a world, would off-off-Broadway be able to exist? It would be the viral parallel to what you'd listed above, but would be far from "free" to produce. So yeah, in retrospect, there's probably a reason why theaters aren't really changing all that much.... but now I just ramble.

Thomas Garvey

Aaron, I've seen the National Theatre transmissions, and, like the Met digital transmissions, they're very compelling. Not quite theatre, not quite film, but certainly not TV or YouTube! At their best they feel like titanic theatre - the electricity of live performance, but at a huge scale.


Thomas, I'll thank you to leave me out of your arguments. I was commenting on a friend's blog, not engaging in a conversation with you. I honestly have no idea why you're attacking me out of the blue like this.

Anyway, I don't believe I mentioned anything about throwing out the great playwrights. I merely stated, half jokingly even, that USA Up All Night was a bigger influence on me than Shakespeare. At any rate, your random attack against me only proves Isaac's point.

As for my work, I would never compare myself to Shakespeare. The differences between our work, I'd think, are clear to anybody.(For one thing, I'm still alive!)But you know what? I'm proud of my work. I like it, and so do other people. Contrary to your overblown sense of self, you are not the arbiter of good taste.

So suck it.



Not to start a big argument or anything, because I really liked your comment, but I would absolutely say that there have been TV shows etc. that have changed my life. Some plays have too, of course.

I'm just saying.

Thomas Garvey

What's funny about you guys is how thin-skinned (and short-sighted) you all are. Josh says he learned more from late night cable than from 'any old Shakespeare play' and then opines that "monoculture" shouldn't let the door hit it in the ass on the way out, but then gets all upset when someone points out how silly these statements are - or rather, when someone points out that if he doesn't think Shakespeare (who's pretty much at the center of our "monoculture") should last, why the hell should his own work last? The point is that, as an old poem I vaguely remember once put it (roughly), as hard as it is to believe, "the new road will soon be the old road." That is, all you young playwrights will very soon be the old fogeys. And yet you all seem intent on destroying whatever means still exist of ensuring that the best of your work might live on. The most ironic part of this whole silly discussion is that even if you're down with that, I'm not. I want the best of what you write to have a future, even if you don't.


*Sigh* Thomas, you're the only one A) playing some zero-sum game where de-emphasizing or making room equals "consign to the dust heap" and B) who seems to be unable to note the difference between a cheeky, somewhat sarcastic turn of phrase from an actual serious sentiment. Yes, what is new and fresh now will seem old and out of date down the line and that will be true of Josh's work, my work, even honestly Shakespeare and a lot of folks. There is a difference between saying we need to make room for new voices and new ideas and Shakespeare is bunk. I (Josh can speak for himself, quite well) love Shakespeare and reading his plays have been a formative experience in my own writing, but certainly not the only one and I'm not going to discount something because it's "low-brow" or newfangled or whatever reason you have for discounting YouTube or television or whatever it is you're saying isn't real Art these days. It all goes into the mixing bowl and that's a good thing.

Neither Josh or I are advocating that our plays be immediately granted a place in the pantheon on the strength of identity politics. We're trying to say that the pantheon could and should be wider. I'm not really sure what's so terrible about that. Except that, mostly, it cuts into the monopoly of art snobs. And who would bemoan that, except, you know. Art snobs.


Again, Thomas, I never suggest we throw out Shakespeare. My statement was that late night cable influenced me more than Shakespeare, which was meant to be funny, but is also true. I write a very particular kind of play which you may or may not find value in.

I'm also fully aware that I'm getting older. (Believe me... I just found my first silver hair.) And in fact I would be in favor of throwing my work out when and if it no longer has relevancy.

I have this crazy notion that art I look at should speak to me about my life in some way. If my work stops doing that for folks then toss it, by all means.

Shakespeare had lots of lots contemporaries who don't get produced anymore. We remember Shakespeare because he was the best. That doesn't mean we should be producing his work ALL THE TIME AD NAUSEUM. As relevant as his work still is, you know what else is relevant to life today? Brand new plays written by living playwrights for a contemporary audience.


Also, Thomas, you know good and well that the reason I was upset was that you randomly brought me into a conversation and then started attacking my work, which you've neither seen nor read. I don't know why exactly, as I wasn't engaged in conversation with you at the time and have always had pleasant exchanges with you.

I was upset, in short, because you were doing the internet version of talking trash about me. Well, congratulations... I took the bait.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Jack Worthing

New plays need context. Produce them alongside classics. Regularly. They'll often speak to each other in surprising ways. Cf. what the RSC and Royal Court did so well for so long.

I think Shakespeare is so deep in our DNA now that his plays have shaped us all, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Thomas Garvey

I think the point is that we get very little great Shakespeare in the U.S. As in I've never seen a truly great production of Shakespeare in the U.S. And such productions are getting rarer in the UK and Canada, too. So how well do we really "know" Shakespeare? I'd argue not all that well. That's why I say we should keep doing him - maybe eventually we'll figure him out!

And right now in Boston there are far more new plays being done than classic ones. It's the same in New York. I'm not sure where this world exists in which the classics are being produced over and over ad nauseum, pushing new work off the stage. I don't think there's been a major production of Ibsen in Boston in something like a decade, for instance, and we rarely see Shaw anymore. Meanwhile I see Theresa Rebeck and Sarah Ruhl every season. But Ibsen and Shaw have more to say about our life today than Rebeck and Ruhl do.

Jack Worthing

Quite right that I've never seen truly great Shakespeare in the USA. Why that might be is a very interesting subject...

Thomas Garvey

The Brits and Canadians always had the rhetorical power and the conceptual command for the plays, and they quickly absorbed the American method. They've got it all. Americans, meanwhile, can never really get a hang for the language, and they absolutely refuse to admit that the works are symphonic, and so require a great conductor/director, who, yes, shapes the performances at least as much as the individual actors do. Hence the ongoing car-crash that in American Shakespeare.


you know, i love shakespeare. i love shakespeare so much, i worked at a shakespeare theater for four years. and at the end of that four years, i was effing sick of shakespeare. we started to repeat plays IN THE TIME I WAS THERE. (four years!) i got bored.

dude wrote 37 plays, and there are how many theatres devoted to producing his work? we don't have to worry about shakespeare not getting his due because we've got the opposite problem. chill out, thomas. and make some room for the new folks.

also: josh is an awesome playwright.


The only parts of the monoculture which are 'dead' are the parts that were a threat to global "free market" hegemony. There arent any such thing as rock concerts anymore, but maybe thats a for the best, becasue if there were, they would be swamped with police and private security goons dragging people out and bashing heads. Dept. Of homeland security would be there collecting DNA samples and x-raying everyone on the way in. What Fun! No, fellow consumer, its best you stay inside, plugged into your sensory fullfilment/bio metric data collection module along with 200 million others, and perhaps blog about all the rich variety of choices modern life has to offer. Theres chocolate, vanilla, cinmaon and now becasue the culture is so impossibly diverse, chutney and mango. The world is a SCARY place and remember to report any suspicious activity to DHS at once. YOUR VERY LIFE and the safety of the nation depend on your utmost compliance.

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