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Friday, November 21, 2008

Content conundrum

The theatrosphere has been having those “What have we become?” moments spurred on by a seemingly innocuous post by Tony Adams on the lack of content about what actually appears onstage in the theatre-focused online community. The post was motivated by comments made by Tony’s friend Chuy, paraphrased as:
“What I don't get . . . people all over the blogosphere, and in shows I've worked on, talk about business models, rehearsal processes, the whiteness of theatre, women playwrights, 501c3-- they talk about all that stuff . . . but why doesn't anyone ever talk about content. The actual content of theatre? No one ever talks about the actual content of what is on stages. Why?”
The post generated a firestorm of responses, none of which challenge the thesis that theatre blogs are much more focused on the meat and potatoes of producing work than the actual content of the work on stage.

Is there not enough content about the actual content of theatre online? What can be done to encourage more discussion of the craft without alienating other artists? What other barriers are there to communicating more about art and less about the business of creating art?


Aaron Talbot said...

That's funny... I just wrote about the same topic on Wednesday.


SHOP Program said...

woah, that is a little spooky considering the two posts reference different materials and reach similar conclusions.

my question is: what can we do to encourage more discussion content?

obviously the first barrier is that theatre communities around the world are small places and if we all started critiquing everyone else's work and disseminating it, things would get messy fast. also, we already have critics, who do this for us.

but certainly there are ways around these challenges that allows us to talk about what is going on in our rehearsal halls and on our stages.

MK Piatkowski said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the idea of writing theatre blogs to give the audience a window into the process? Have them feel more a part of the creation of work and thus ownership?

And from my own personal blogging evolution, I started off blogging during the production of a show, right through. And yes, I didn't really talk much about content because I wanted that to be part of the experience for those who attended. From there I graduated to sharing my impressions of things I was seeing, does that come under theatre content? And nobody read those posts. It's only been as we've widened the perspective that people have started reading it.

So I would question whether there is even a desire for that kind of discussion. Each individual has a personal response to the work and I really hate the idea of preempting that response. Or am I just misinterpreting what the question is?

SHOP Program said...

MK, i can see how you would be confused. after re-reading my comment i realized i inverted two words in my question. sorry. encore une fois:

what can we do to encourage more content discussion?

by that i mean, i never see anything online about, say, trends in directing or lighting design in Toronto theatre in the last 5 years, or even just frank discussion about what type of work is getting support and what isn't. how are people working? and i don't mean under what contract in what venue. i mean how are they working? that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

You wanna talk content, let's talk content, instead of talking about generating talk about content. Anyone wanna do a show about the financial crisis? Bretton Woods? The history of why every country on the planet can't figure out where the money went? That's content. How about stories. Strange feet keep washing ashore in BC... There's content. How about trends in content. If I see one more show trying to connect the internet into it's theme I'm gonna barf. It's the equivalent of 70's radical theatre that had a colour TV on stage... Oooh, futuristic. How many of those plays still get done? What about reflections on man's nature? Are there still tough choices in life? Enough to build a dilemma from? How come so many Canadian plays are set in the past? How come every shakespeare show has become about where and when they set it? Gangster, Modern, Finland, Midgets, No Words, One-Man, Dance, Africa, Italy, Las Vegas... There. That's talking about content.

Anonymous said...

I'm back, puppies. And I concur with Ben. Let's talk CONTENT.

PS. Sorry I couldn't make your Duke bash. I trust you all had an extra one for me.

Obsidian Theatre said...

Ahem....I think that to actually have a discussion on content that it would be necessary for people to actually see some plays.
Funny, the number of people I talk to who haven't seen jack and yet are all in the theatre community.


SHOP Program said...

welcome back anon! we had enough beverages that i'm sure one of them could have been for you.

philip you're right. seeing shows is a helpful compliment to informing an opinion about what the fuck is going on.

if you guys were going to talk CONTENT where would you start?

Anonymous said...

Proposed Thesis: "The Drawer Boy" is bullshit. Discuss.

SHOP Program said...

oh wow. anon, where would we be without you?

this is a little embarrassing, and plays right into what philip was saying, but i have not seen the drawer boy.

i do have two friends who just did the show this fall: one production in Canada and one in England,, so if it is bullshit, it also getting a bit of a revival.....

Anonymous said...

I have not seen "The Drawer Boy" and I never will. Reading it is enough for me.

The fact that this emotional fraud of a play keeps getting produced reflects very poorly on all involved.

There's some content-based commentary for ya.

MK Piatkowski said...

And I liked Drawer Boy. I've seen it twice, in its first remount with the original cast and the version done at TPM last year.

What I like about the play is that it takes a moment that's considered pivotal for Canadian theatre, the creation of The Farm Show, and flips it. Anon may find it emotionally fraudulent but my non-theatre friends found resonance in the story of keeping secrets and the cost of exposing those secrets. In the end, it's about the demands and rewards of friendship, and I think the friendship at the core of the work is why people love the play.

The other thing I really like about the play is that it's travelled all over the world. It's a quintenssentially Canadian story in many ways yet audiences everywhere are finding resonance. And in the end, isn't that why we're doing this in the first place?

MK Piatkowski said...

And Ben, to speak to trends, I'm tired of seeing cinematic approaches on stage. If I want to see a film, I'll go see one. Other parts of the world are using the stage to create something that can only be part of theatre and I wish we did more of that.

Anonymous said...

MKP, you like The Drawer Boy because "... it takes a moment that's considered pivotal for Canadian theatre, the creation of The Farm Show, and flips it."

.... So, insular self-referencing makes a show good?

"The other thing I really like about the play is that it's travelled all over the world."

... What the hell does THAT have to do with content? That's just more sentimental self-referencing.

I'd comment on your other point, MK, re "the demands and rewards of friendship" but I don't think that's the play's theme. I think the play's theme is that 1970s collective theatre had the power to help brain-damage victims recover their memories-- a point no reasonably honest person can take seriously.

MKP, I accuse you of group-think.

Aaron Talbot said...

I've seen "Drawer Boy"...

Years ago in Edmonton. I can't remember a single thing about it. I think I liked it at the time. But not enough to remember.

Anon: what is group-think? I don't know what that means, only that it's an accusatory term that pisses people off.

And maybe we should rather talk about ways of generating content rather than complaining about the content that's already out there. Do we always have to go straight to the negative whenever we talk about stuff in the blogosphere?

Aaron Talbot said...

Yeah, generating content...

... cool.

Anonymous said...

"Group-think" is falling into line what the group is thinking, or seems to be thinking.

I've got to tell you, several times I've told people in confidence what I thought of the drawer boy, and they've all said, "thank god someone finally said that play is BS, I was afraid to say it myself".

Yeah Aaron, I'll try to be positive about stuff occasionally too.

MK Piatkowski said...

Anon, you haven't actually seen the show yet you're accusing me of group think? Last time I checked my opinions were based on my own impressions and I'm pretty sure people who read my blog would say I'm an original thinker.

And I stand by my argument that the play's theme is about friendship. It seems to me that you're the one looking at it from a self-referential perspective. I talked about what I personally liked about the play but my friends who saw it couldn't care less about the Farm Show. They saw the actor character as the catalyst but it was the farmer characters they related to and wanted to learn more about.

As for it travelling, I'm using that to point out that it has universal appeal, that goes beyond the "self-referential" nature of so much of the theatre we create. I'm over the moon that something created in this community is having such an impact internationally, as that bolsters interest in the work that we do. I don't see its success as a bad thing. But I'm guessing it's not pure enough for you. I suppose you'll be bashing Norm Foster next.

I didn't present my opinions to get pissed all over. Maybe that's why we don't have these kinds of discussions.

Anonymous said...

That does it, I'm moving to the UK, Ireland or Germany, where people can engage in a bit of creative sparring without one of them starting to bawl.

Aaron Talbot said...

See what I mean? Pisses people off.
Doesn't matter what it means; its effect has eclipsed its meaning.

SHOP Program said...

man, you go to the dentist for a few hours (don't ask, it's bad) and all heck has broken loose.

i think the latest scrum does illustrate one of the issues with talking about what's on stage, which is that negative feedback generally gets people's back up and hurts their feelings...and we're just talking about the production in general, not a particular production currently.

so we leave feedback to critics whom we have developed psychological tools to deal with...somewhat...also, i think in Canada its important to note that our public funding comes via arms-length peer review. so unless you are anonymous like anon, saying you didn't like something has the potential to turn into you not liking the success rate of your future funding requests also.

MK Piatkowski said...

All anon had to do was respectfully disagree with my thoughts. But basically calling them stupid is not productive. And that seems more the problem to me. I've been able to have great disagreements about something by respecting the other's opinion and recognizing they're approaching the issue from a different viewpoint. But what seems to be somewhat endemic in the community is a sense that one's viewpoint is the only correct one.

I'll use an example. I was out with a couple of girlfriends, none of who are involved with the arts in any way. One started talking about how she loved Nuit Blanche because she could just engage with the art without being made to feel that she was stupid because she just didn't understand it. She was surprised when I told her that it was all about how she was responding to the work, and that there was no right way to feel about it.

It feels to me that there is a distrust of the response of the non-artist public, a feeling that if they like it, it can't be real art. And that's what Anon's response felt like to me. That if something touches the emotions it must be manipulative. Fraudulent. Yet it keeps getting produced, so obviously a lot of other people disagree.

Of course, I could turn this on its head because I feel that Phantom of the Opera is exactly that but millions of people disagree with me. However, I would never accuse them of group think. They respond to the outsider nature of the Phantom. And who am I to say that response is false?

Aaron Talbot said...

Good point Michael.

At this point, I'd like to add that:
I love everything that everyone is doing and I think you're all brilliant.

Beyond that, I think it'd be fun to talk about topics/issues that are being written about in general kind of way. Trends and such; and which trends are having success. (And, whether or not we think they're good for theatre.)

BTW: You ever come up with an idea for a play -- about something so wonderfully original, or about a topic that's been so woefully ignored in recent times that you're sure to be recognized as an international genius for focussing on it -- and you go write it and produce it... only to find another company producing a different play about the exact same thing on the season calendar???


Oh, and I'm also interested reading about different ways artists generate new content.

Aaron Talbot said...

Ask and you shall receive

Aaron Talbot said...

Content-based blog entry here.

And here.

Thank god for the Guardian.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so, I have a reasonable expectation that I'm going to get attacked for this by "Anonymous", so let me take a moment to don my armour...

Okay, now that's done...

What's with the attacking instead of discussing? If Anonymous really wants there to be a discourse on this kind of thing, then why shut it down by mud slinging? Why attack MK's thoughts?

A discussion with dissenting opinions is an interesting one. The attack on someone, and then that person trying to defend themselves, not so interesting. And, honestly, for me, all the ideas get lost, because the attack is at the forefront.

It's kind of like the difference of watching a debate and an argument. A debate intrigues me, makes me want to know more, draws me in. An argument is uncomfortable and makes me want to shrink back.

This kind of has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but I just found myself wondering what the point was.

Okay, I'll go back into my little corner and try to be inconspicuous to avoid having things hurled at me...

Anonymous said...

You're all so civil and polite. Knock yourselves out. I'm moving on. Yawn.

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