Tuesday, October 16, 2012

After Dark, October 16, 2012

We Need to Talk About The Kids
Out of the mouths of babes...
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I was having a conversation with a bunch of much-younger-than-me film students, a few years back. We were working together on a movie project and I mentioned that the style we were shooting it resembled what I had heard and read about the shoot for Midnight Cowboy - very guerilla. To a person the group of four looked at me with a blank stare. I was confused. Yes, I realized that guerilla art was a fad of my own youth.

But Midnight Cowboy!! They had never heard of it. I blustered. Midnight Cowboy! I repeated over and over again, like the repetition itself would make this film iconic to them. It gets worse...except for Dustin Hoffman, all the names linked to this film (director John Schlesinger, actor Jon Voigt) meant nothing to them.

This was the moment my attitudes about art changed - I thank the four youngsters for this. I realized, later, that these young people were not a bunch of baboons - they had given me the same look I gave my older sisters and brothers when they talked about Rickie Nelson (pop star and star of the TV show Ozzie and Harriet, and cute - my sisters insisted). The roll of the eyes I gave my elder siblings was exactly that given me on Midnight Cowboy and for the same reason: this is not important...now.

Perhaps it is not as important, right now, to remind our youngsters how great Havel or Schlesinger were

This struck me again, in the last week, when of our CharPo reviewers freely admitted in a critique that she had not heard of Vaclav Havel. At first I was stymied (as I was in that Midnight Cowboy moment). But then I also realized that the last time I had seen and reviewed (and liked) a production of a Havel work was 20 years ago, at the beginning of my career as a critic. So, despite the fact Havel was once a popular flavour in international theatre, he is no longer. It's sad, yes, but this is the way of the world.

Allow me to play devil's advocate. It is also what separates theatres who are doing museology and living theatre.

Perhaps it is not as important, right now, to remind our youngsters how great Havel or Schlesinger were (or, who knows, may always be!) as it is to seduce a new generation into our theatres. As I have said before, the audience we are still catering to in our seasons is dead or dying. We have gray-head theatre because we are not learning the cultural vocabulary of young culture-seekers.

Right now, CharPo is compiling a survey of 25-year-olds-and-younger asking them about cultural choices and tastes. It is eye-opening. (For instance, they still love Shakespeare and they seem to like opera! Whodathunkit.) We are also working on a series of articles and interviews about what the young are talking about and, more importantly, care about.

But I would suggest - until this work is done - that you all ask the kids. Simply ask them the name of the last play that hit them hard. In a lot of cases, I suspect, it will be a show they saw at a Fringe-style event. It may very well be a piece that delivered a roundhouse, last year, but doesn't mean anything this year. It may be a piece that would have (or maybe did) upset and challenge their parents or grandparents. Was it in a mainstream, subscription house?

Well, that is the question, isn't it?

There is another quote I heard recently that is germane here. I have to paraphrase because it struck me so hard the specific words and the speaker were lost into the nether. However it was an artist who said it and he was justifying the two kinds of work he did thusly: the stuff that entertained was craft; the stuff that perturbed and challenged was art. There was a place for both, he insisted, but let's not think the two are the same thing.

But let's go back to Midnight Cowboy and Havel...only time will tell whether they rank or have the longevity of Shakespeare and Wagner.

I would posit this: that as we age we tend to go towards entertainment because - let's face it - life is a little harder and we'd like things to be a little easier. I see that in myself a good deal of the time. I know that the 55-year-old Gaëtan is not the same as the 20-year-old. He liked his nerves jangled...all...the...time. He had the energy for it.

But here's the dilemma for arts programmers. The youngster had no patience for 16 hours of Wagner's Ring. The old man which I am now thought the Lepage/Met Ring was brilliant - partly because of its detailed and very slow cadence.

But let's go back to Midnight Cowboy and Havel...only time will tell whether they rank or have the longevity of Shakespeare and Wagner. (I suspect not.) But it is clear that our theatres have to reflect the history/actuality dichotomy.

When I was a young theatre-goer, Centaur Theatre, here in Montreal, had two venues which were distinctly different. One had a fairly staid (and, to my mind at the time, dull) season. Classics, and Pulitzer winners and Neil Simon and yadda yadda yadda...you know the score (surf around to websites of mainstream, subscription houses). But Centaur's second house was an orgy of rage, bad language and currency: a play about racial strife at one of our universities; a play about workers being mistreated; a play about pool-sharks and hooligans; a play which discussed the sexual drives of the disabled. It was heady, thrilling stuff and it wasn't always good but it was always provocative. (A friend of mine, who worked in the box office at the time talks of a patron storming out of a play and shredding her program and throwing it in the faces of the box office people.) Of those plays - The Great White Computer, On The Job, One Crack Out, Creeps - not a one is done anymore. However, I'll bet you a lot of the young people who saw those plays 35 years ago are still seeing plays. The ones who liked the steady diet of plays at the other house are likely dead.

So where is that? Where is that concept of Centaur I and Centaur II - subsidized, subscription houses who offer craft AND art? 'Cause, good people, we need it.

(I never usually ask for them, but on this article I would very much like comments, below.)

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