Killing that old black magic


If you’re wise, even just a little wise, you don’t blurt out the literal first thing that comes to your mind. Your first response may be the truest, it may be right, but unfiltered conversation is seldom advisable no matter how entertaining.

You of course should always record your first impulse and dissect it later in public to show how wrong you were. See, once upon a time David Dower framed the #newplay conversation with the phrase ‘from scarcity to abundance’. To which my gut replied immediately, “bullshit”.

My gut is startlingly eloquent.

My second reaction conflated this (presumed) magical thinking with the societally disastrous ‘prosperity theology’ and I began to resent the whole thing. Why would David Dower, champion of the fringe and the storefront, abandon his roots to roll around in all this “prosperity”?

I try to make sure my rhetorical questions really are… and this, as it turned out, wasn’t. Dower hadn’t abandoned his roots. I was simply caught in the merry-go-round of black magical thinking. To black magical thinking “Real” and “authentic” means “negative” and “dire”. Something seemed negative so of course it had to be both true and pervasive.

Are you doing it?

Are you caught in thinking that:
– Your personal circumstance is a gestalt Truth of the Industry?
– That the industry in your locale is The Industry
– The current trend is permanent, the New Normal?
– Folks working outside your niche are working counter to your purposes?
– This is a zero sum game and they’re stealing your audience?
– There is less opportunity now than ever?
– You deserve ________________.
– Theatre is dying? wounded? dead?

Magical thinking is deadly.
Black magical thinking is just as deadly.
Constructing a hypothetical artistic dystopia for you to save the city/county/world from may make for really intriguing personal narrative but that doesn’t make it true. But you can weave such a dire myth for yourself that you can’t fight your way out of it whether it’s true or not. The theatre industry has a bunch of challenges – as any hybrid industry will, and making money at doing something you enjoy doing is fraught with any number of compromises and dead-ends. The industry is not the art. OOH… here let’s add that:

Are you caught in:
– Conflating the industry and the art to self-fulfill doomsday prophecies?

Look, I do all of these. Where the hell do you think I got the list?
When you talk about the problems in this industry as much as many of us do you start to lose sight of the abundance. Mr. Dower wasn’t trying to insert sunshine any place it shouldn’t be. This is a time of amazing abundance in theatre and particularly in new play creation. Abundance isn’t some sort of diagonal synonym of easy. Opportunity isn’t that thing you want offered on a platter. Opportunity is space at the table.

How do we fight this defeatist, failure excusing habit?

For me it lies in fighting lazy thinking.
Like not stopping at “Dower is now the enemy” above.
It lies in having the second thought about a problem. 
It lies in assuming that any situation that is framed as a binary is not being framed as rigorously as it needs to be.
And for me most specifically it means not seeing ultimate defeat in not seeing a “professional” place for me in the industry as it stands.

What are some other black magical tropes you see all the time?
How do you transform the negativity we wallow in so regularly into something actionable?
How do you see opportunity in an “industry” that has resource gridlock?

Let’s figure it out because without you we can’t create more and better opportunities and overcome that resource gridlock.

  • November 27, 2012
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