On Having Lied About What I Would Write About Today

Puppet Theater

Sorry for all of you Ionesco enthusiasts who were dying to hear about my thoughts re: his most famous play Rhinoceros that would’ve been quickly followed in the days ahead by thoughts re: The Killer and a number of his short(er) plays.  That will all just have to wait a day.

Today I’ll be talking about theater.  Not the theater, the physical space, or theater in terms of plays, but theater’s essence: co-operation.

Theater is a co-operative art.  If you didn’t know that, go back to school, get out of the kitchen, find yourself a job as an accountant, or a hermit.

The bare truth is that theater is a co-operative – or, to use another, more popular word – collaborative art.

In terms of writing, I think of collaboration as two writers working together to create a single text.  I’ve always shied away from this sort of work – if something isn’t completely “mine” then I find it hard to treat it as seriously and with as much attention as I do those other works that are completely mine (my creation, and my responsibility if they end up failures).  And it’s true that I’ve written a few plays in high school and college that were collaborations in this sense.  And though I’m writing collaborations now with the poet Michelle Schmidt, those are two-part poems with a clear (to us) separation between who wrote what – more simultaneous and related poems than pure collaborations.

But I’ve always been blind to how much theater is a collaborative art.  That is to say, the collaborative nature of theater never turned me off of writing for the theater.

In essence, this is because a play – unlike a movie or, especially, a TV show – can be, and is expected to be, performed by a number of different people over the course of its life on the stage.  A certain run of a production, no matter how long it is, is only one run in one city in one country during one very specific length of time.  If it goes badly, or if I don’t like the particular slant of a director, the show can always be produced again.

But in that particular production, oh, well, your reliance on others is absolute.  Especially once the run begins and audiences are let into the theater, each member of the company, actor or techie, relies on each other one absolutely.  This is especially the case in smaller, fly-by-night, avante garde companies of which, essentially, Theater 42 counts itself a member.

Which is to say that today we had to cancel a show.  An actor couldn’t make it to the theater by the time the show was to go on, or even within a reasonable amount of time after the show was to already have started, and so the play had to be canceled.  Which means we had to turn our prospective audience away and, unfortunately, five-sixths of the possible audience has plans for next weekend which make this performance they missed the only possible one for them to attend.

Now, I’ll admit, our audiences haven’t been big.  We’re a new theater company, and Houston isn’t a big theater scene, and, as with most companies, we need to build an audience.  Megan, for her part, suggests that an audience will grow because we’re offering (in her POV) something that no one else is.  But the thing is that building an audience means that you have to attract new people to your productions, people who aren’t friends or family and who have no real idea of who you are.

Today we had two people filling that theoretical audience who found out about us through the Houston Press write-up and they (well, not them specifically, but people like them) are the future of Theater 42.

And that’s what depresses me most about today’s non-performance.

And that’s why I ended up playing Darkest of Days for several hours and found myself disappointed with that game for what it could have been (though that’ll be fully explored in a future Shortcut).

And that’s why I’m meditating on collaboration in theater and how – without understudies, without fallback plans, without insurance – avant garde theater lives up to the military origin of the term in that, when things get rough, it’s the first to fall.

Tomorrow: Ionesco: Rhinoceros.

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