A Little Respite, A Little Rest

Hey all. It’s your friendly neighborhood playwright/blogger here. You might have noticed a slight lull in reviewing. It’s not that I haven’t seen shows – I saw Hamlet at Park Square at the beginning of October, The Privateer at Park Square a couple of weeks ago, and In the Next Room at the Rarig Center just this weekend. I, however, have not reviewed them. It’s not that I don’t want to review them. But the problem is with my brain and the things it’s struggling through right now.

I have anxiety. And not like Zooey Deschanel-New Girl -“I’m socially awkward” anxiety. I mean the actual mental condition of generalize anxiety disorder. It’s been a greater struggle as I’ve become an adult and left the structure that school and having set classes offered and, as the years have gone on, it’s become a larger influence on my life. I only acknowledged that I had anxiety in 2015 and, since then, I’ve been working to learn to better handle it and reduce the things that provoke and trigger it. The 2016 election has been a definite trigger, so the last year has been a little rough. But it’s also been one of the best years of my life and I’ve grown in a lot of ways.

Right now, I’m relearning how to live with my anxiety. I started taking Zoloft just over a month ago and cut out a lot of things in my life that were causing me additional stress. One of those things was the number of shows I see. I decided to cut back in order to have more free time to focus on grad school and relax. However, after cutting back shows I found that I still didn’t have the desire to review. I wanted to see theater, but reviewing had begun to feel like a job – no, a relentless task, something that I was continually being asked to do and continued to accept because, more and more, I feel that the theater community is becoming reliant on bloggers to make up for the inadequate press we have in town. As much as like voicing my views on theater, I also don’t want to create the expectation that I will see all the shows and write all the reviews and always share my socio-political perspective. I like doing that, but right now I am tired and I need to take a break. I need to remember what it’s like to see a show without having to worry about getting home to my computer to write down my thoughts. I want to remember what it’s like to watch shows as an audience member, as an artist, not a reviewer. In the long run, I think it’ll make me a better artist and critic.

I’m hoping to get back into reviewing, I think, but right now I really need to make time for myself. The world is full of stresses and triggers, as it always has been, but my engagement with them has changed. I’ll continue to see shows, hopefully a couple a month, and I plan on writing here, more about playwriting and other thoughts I have on theater. In the meantime, I’m working on a series of posts about anxiety and theater for Minnesota Playlist, so keep your eyes out for that (I’ll also share them here once their published).

Thanks all and see you around town.

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The Critic as an Artist

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Source:thestar.com

This is the second in a series of posts I’ll be writing on the topic of theater criticism. In this selection, I’ll be looking at Oscar Wilde’s ideas of criticism and how it can become an art form of its own.

If you happened to see The Critic/The Real Inspector Hound at the Guthrie this March, you know how easily theater criticism can go awry and make it only too easy to poke fun at it. But put this behind for a moment and instead regard the critic differently – for instance, from the view of Oscar Wilde.

I am unabashedly an Oscar Wilde fan.  One of my favorite works of his (aside from the brilliance that is The Importance of Being Earnest) is The Critic as an Artist, an essay written as a dialogue between two men. In it, Gilbert and Earnest discuss whether or not artists should pay any mind to critics and what the whole point of judging art is. Earnest argues that art was best when there were no critics, while Gilbert says there have always been critics, explaining how ancient Greece was a society of critics that recognized “the most perfect art is that which most fully mirrors man in all his infinite variety.” Criticism from one’s self and others, in Gilbert’s view, allows for artists to find new ways to create and recreate while critics “record one’s own soul” by sharing their own impressions. Art becomes part of one’s personal experiences and can be enjoyed beyond what makes it technically great or meet’s someone else’s expectations.

Gilbert continues to describe the art of criticism, stating that “the actor is the critic of drama,” taking a writer’s work, studying and analyzing it and making it their own in their performance. Works of art are living things and, by interacting with them, we change them and allow ourselves opportunities to grow and complicate ourselves. For Gilbert, art is universal, not just for specialists. In fact, Gilbert argues that great artists cannot really judge their work or the work of others because of their vision. It is better then to be an outside observer who is passionate but not a part of the creation process. There’s a lot of truth to this and some fallacies – I personally think artists  make great critics, though there are instances where they can get hung up on certain aspects because of the work they do. Likewise, misunderstandings from outside observers can occur because they don’t know the depth and work put into an artist process. However, in Gilbert’s world where art is universal, it seems there would be better communication about the creative process and the amount of effort put into artist endeavor would not be overlooked.

Then again, Oscar Wilde isn’t concerned about effort and work levels maintained by artists the way my Marxist (i.e.: class)-tuned brain is (which thanks to my undergraduate degree, it’s a frequency I’m always tuned to). Oscar Wilde was quite the dandy and a hedonist. He focused greatly on aestheticism and the beauty of things over the socio-political importance. Much of his ideas of criticism are contemplating the aesthetic qualities of art. However, his arguments work to support the importance of the ephemeral, so to speak, and the socio-political and deeper humanitarian qualities that make art great, whether he likes it or not. Wilde’s ideas still hold up, even for Marxist theory (“Art is for everyone!” especially). I rather hope that he’d appreciate me taking his ideas and creating new concepts with them, rather than being upset for re-appropriating his ideas to philosophies he had nothing to do with.

Of course the real question about Wilde is does he care so much about aesthetics because people think it’s frivolous and therefore unintelligent and unimportant and is arguing otherwise, or does he really only care about that because he’s a dandy? Or both, because people can be contradictory? I vote for both. Regardless, his writing allows us as artists and critics to reevaluate how we see and interact with the art that is so much a part of our lives. It speaks to the communication between artist and audiences that I strive for and breaks down the pinnacle we place both artists (in terms of perfection) and critics (in terms of being the ultimate source of opinion in art). Plus this piece is full of some of Wilde’s best quotes:

  • “Any idea that is not dangerous is not worthy of being called an idea at all.”
  • “What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our personalities.”
  • “Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

So if you’re looking for a quick, clever read, I highly recommend this. It celebrates art, the creators of it, and the observers of it in the best of ways and allows for a lot of thought, discussion, disagreement, and growth.

A Shared Experience: How Do We Discuss Art?

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Source: mspmag.com

This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing on the topic of theater criticism. In this selection, I’ll be looking at how we think about the shows we watch and how our use of labels cam be harmful.

On March 19th, I attend Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: The 20th Century Abridged. It was an incredible performance art concert that was incredibly thought-provoking and has kept me thinking long after I left the theater.

At the beginning of the show, Mac described the performance as a “shared experience, but not a homogeneous one.” We may be watching the same show, but we aren’t all seeing it the same way. As audience members, we were encouraged to embrace whatever we felt and that there was no one correct way to react to the show. In a culture that focuses on feeling just one thing or be only one thing or another, Mac explained, it’s important to embrace “both earnestness and cynicism.”

It’s refreshing to be allowed to accept what you are experiencing, especially the range, the nuances, and the contradictions of reactions, regardless of whether it’s what the rest of the audience is feeling or what the artist wants to see. As a critic and an artist myself, it’s often difficult to figure out how to deal with such responses. All too often, “professional” criticism and conversations about shows become focused on the right or the wrong way to see a show or whether it’s good or bad. I’m far less interested in these things. I’m a highly emotional person and I’m more interested in what a performance makes me feel, what it causes me to think about, what it’s saying about the world around me and what resonates with me.

However, those reactions can’t always be put into the categories we’re used to – art that’s good or bad, art that is happy or sad, art that is simple or complex. Mac, who resists normative categorizations, especially in terms of gender and uses judy as a pronoun, is the perfect voice to support the resistance of lumping art off in the same way. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever like all parts of a show and wrong to pretend we do. It feels wrong to use words that hold a moral stance – such as good or bad – to describe performances and it seems too final to think that our opinions on shows won’t change overtime or with further thought. There are many shows I disliked at the moment and grew to like overtime and shows I enjoyed until thinking of further contexts and realized their flaws. Final judgement in reviewing a show is a difficult notion but one that is expected and one that I am drawn to resist. As we shouldn’t segment people into static categories that never change (I’m thinking in terms of labels or personality classifications here), we likewise shouldn’t segment the art they make either.

Mac stated during the performance that judy focuses on humanity rather than perfection. I aim to do that my own creative work and reviewing. For when we put perfection aside, we can begin to think about why we create art, why we watch it, and why it’s important to us. And when we ask those questions, we deepen our understanding not only of art, but of ourselves.