I grew up in a household that was… healthy.
Healthy healthy.

Lima (bean) burgers, grinding grain blends for homemade bread, fresh milk from family friends who ran a small farm… my folks idea of retirement was decamping the suburbs and repairing to a 10 acre tract further north in New Hampshire so they could farm more and raise small livestock.

You know what we rarely had in our fresh milk? Lucky Charms.

When I got to college I tried every combination of sugared breakfast cereal known to man. I fired up a life long affair with powdered cheese and my soda consumption rose to ‘signature accessory’ levels. It was classic overcompensation -so classic as to be boring and cliché.

As my gastronomic rummspringa gave way (mostly) to more mature tastes I started gravitating to the moderately strange… my wife will go to the store and bring home the oddest flavor of whatever she can find because she knows so well. I’ll try your eel and strawberries maki roll… or the rabbit and parmesan risotto at Il Fornaio in San Francisco, (one of my very favorite meals ever) or the ancho chile and honey basted quail at Mac and Ernie’s is the middle of nowhere (I went for the Cabrito Burger – so sad).

I would love to spend a weekend sampling someone’s molecular gastronomy if it were subsidized, and I am insanely covetous of a night spent at Next.

Yet again I’ve taken the long way around – but here’s what I know. I know that each reader has personally connected to different phases. There’re a number of you applauding my upbringing, a few hearty souls defending my powdered cheese addiction, a large percentage of you (I know my readers) who are itching to join me at Mac and Ernie’s and a few who would like to raise a glass with me over a deconstructed bowl of soup.

And all of you are right.

As we grow up in our theatre silos we tend to experience our theatre in order of complexity from basic trite children’s plays made to show off each child and raise money for chalk or whatever up through early modern and naturalism to more abstract naturalism to formal experimentation to forms that you require an honest discussion as to whether it’s actually still theatre – along with all of the mixing and mingling and gradations therein.

In my sphere practitioners tend to want recognizable narrative theatre with a tablespoon of risk… both as a maker and as a audience member. I have seen waves of loud rejection of true experimentation both on line and at the post show table. Almost as loud as the rejection of “well made” comedies.

There is a vigor to the evangelism of personal taste in internet discourse that abandons common sense or even a cursory look at your regions listings. There is also a holiness attached the the New! Shiny! Thing! that ignores the delight of simple well made favorites.

There is a broad diversity of offerings in your area. You discount many of them for not being by ‘good’ companies or resource rich companies. You discount them because you’ve never heard of the company or the theatre or the actors or the writer. You have a thousand thousand reasons why ‘no one’ in your area is doing “good theatre”. Hell, I was part of a company in San Francisco in 1999 that started because  “no one” was doing new plays. I mean sure you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a new play in San Francisco in 1999 but we couldn’t see them so they didn’t exist.

Don’t be me…

  1. Check you local listings.
    It’s more varied than you think.
  2. Order something other than the usual.
    Sometimes the risk involved needs to be yours.
    Go see something or someone you don’t know or usually wouldn’t like. Support for innovation starts with those who recognize the benefit.
    That’s you.
    (I am terrible at this one)
  3. Let’s try really hard to say what we mean.
    Let’s not say ‘someone needs to take a risk’ when we mean ‘do a play that I like that I haven’t seen before’.
  4. Most risk is fringe by design.
    The research and development portion of theatre can’t be more than a small percentage or we have nothing to present to wide part of the bell curve of our audience.
    Some folks might want roasted root vegetable gelato with cracked black pepper. Most honestly want mac and cheese.
    They’re not wrong.
  5. Don’t mistake your desire for something fresh and new with a need for field overhaul. Go to a few chef’s tastings (readings and workshops) and get a feel for what R&D is actually going on.
  6. Don’t conflate the art with the business.
    Saying that the biggest theatres aren’t doing edgy enough work is blaming IBM for not being a nimble startup. It’s expecting foie gras on a Big Mac. You’re expecting the wrong product from the wrong animal. Experimentation isn’t a moneymaker. It never is. In any field.
    Except when there’s revolution.
    Revolution doesn’t happen every day.
  7. When evangelizing for risk be specific about the ‘risk’ you’re looking for.
    Are you looking for:
    Experimental form?
    A large theatre to produce an unknown playwright?
    A small theatre to reimagine a classic?
    Found space?
    Found text?
    Improvised aerial Shakespeare in a found space? 

    Give us your context when you’re pushing for something.
    Risk is relative.

  8. Risk is relative.
    An ad hoc non-institutional ‘band-style” company has little long term stakes to dash with a bad risk. When you start messing with jobs and families the stakes are higher. You need to factor that in when you’re doing your risk math. If someone were doing season planning with an eye to keeping your job intact would you feel differently?
  9. Truly give room to fail.
    Room to fail isn’t ‘allowing the show to open’. It’s giving grace in talking about experimentation and risk taking. It’s talking about a new play with different expectations than Our Town. It’s understanding that sometimes the new form didn’t work in this iteration. But without your encouragement there might not be another iteration. Every time you write dismissively about that “pretentious post-modern X with the bad projections and the interpretive dance” you are shooting risk in the face.
    Feel free. You dislike what you dislike.
    But understand what you’re doing.
  10. If no one in your area is taking the risk you feel need to be taken you’ve found your role.
    Congratulations. I’m excited to hear about your process and I look forward to hearing about your opening.

As a free bonus number 11 let me say:
if you think it’s not happening? Ask. Ask here. Ask your friends, ask on the #2amt or #newplay hashtags on Twitter. There is a broad performance universe out there, so much broader than I ever thought when I was the person whining about lack of risk in theatre (or hell the lack of new work).

And when you find that new thing that is taking the risks you think theatre should be taking?
Tell us – tell everyone you know. Disaffected is no way to live.

  • February 4, 2013
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