Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Review - I am My Own Wife

I've decided to stop writing reviews of the theatre I see. Milwaukee's theatre community doesn't seem to be mature enough for honest criticism, but the show I saw last weekend was such a good example of a potentially great story being compromised by the prevailing norms of America's failing theatre institutions that I can't pass on this opportunity for analysis.

I am talking about "I am My Own Wife" at the Milwaukee Rep. So many people have recommended this show as this season's "if you see anything at the rep, make it this one" show. The first red flag that I may have been misdirected came when i saw that the playwright, Doug Wright had also written "Quills" a film that i thought managed to make the Marquis de Sade boring. Most of my problems are with the script. Wright makes three choices that turn a compelling character and situation into something banal enough to succeed in the current theatre environment.

First, he reduces some of the most complex situations in modern history to a simple personality drama. A play that could have been about East Germany is instead about a celebrity scandal surrounding Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and her furniture. The play even climaxes on a television talk show. Wright's American perspective, his unthinking commitment to anti-authoritarianism causes him to see this period in simple black and white, and he misses many interesting questions (questions that can be turned back on us in America today). What is it like to live under an idealistically ambitious, but deeply flawed regime? What kind of compromises does such a life demand? Instead, Wright quit writing the play when, after reading his subject's Stasi file he discovered that Charlotte had made such compromises.

This brings us to the second flaw in the script. After six years, Wright resumed work on the play with the tactic of writing himself in so his own struggle with Charlotte's integrity could take center stage. This decision allows him to write emotional lines like "I need to believe in her story, I need to believe that someone can survive in a life like hers" (paraphrased from my memory) but, in doing so it robs the audience of an opportunity to encounter that struggle ourselves. Rather than watching the contradictory facts of von Mahlsdorf's life unfold and engaging our critical capacities to understand this character, we're allowed to passively watch Doug Wright vacillate on stage.

Or, an actor playing Doug Wright, that is. The same actor who plays Charlotte von Malhsdorf and some 40 other roles. Which is the third flaw with this script. I can't find any compelling creative reason that Charlotte's story (or actually Doug's story) is best told by one actor playing all the roles. It could be argued that this choice mirrors the many lives Charlotte herself played in life, or that somehow the transvestite themes are aided by all the characters (mostly male) being played by a man in a dress. Actually, my experience is the opposite. Having one actor play all the roles dulls any edge that transvestism might have. Every time the actor switches character we are reminded that this person is onstage and wearing a costume. The potentially transgressive image of a man in a dress is constantly replaced by the perfectly acceptable even traditional image of an actor cross-dressing for his role.

I believe these decisions are motivated by economy not creativity. Wright secured the financial success and marketability of his play when he decided to make it a one man historical biopic.
When economic necessity leads a theatre artist to write, perform and otherwise create a solo show because the show is self produced and rehearsal time is shared with a day job, a job whose vacation time is spent taking the play from fringe festival to fringe festival, then the one man show is a testament to that artist's dedication to his work. When a one man play is clamoured after by large cost-cutting mismanaged regional theatres it looks a lot more like exploitation.

When politically charged content like Nazism, Communism, East-West relations and transsexual identity are replaced by a historical biography of a "greatest generation" figure, it looks a lot like pandering to the aging population of traditional theatre patrons.

When a playwright puts a character, himself even, on stage as a tool for talking about themes rather than simply portraying them, he's lazily spoonfeeding an audience he assumes is to unsophisticated or inattentive to critically engage with the characters.

Producing "I am My Own Wife" chases theatre's aging audience when what we need to do is lead or even drag new audiences into the theatre medium.

So, here again, like Endgame and Gilbert and George, we have Milwaukee's artistic establishments paying lip service to presenting politically relevant, challenging or potentially controversial work. The Rep also makes a number of design and direction decisions that exacerbate my problems with this play. Michael Gotch's performance in the show is encumbered by unnecessary sound and light cues for his character transformations. He is certainly well trained and talented enough that his voice and body alone embody the diverse array of characters for all but the most deaf and nearsighted of audience members. The light cues are like making him carry a crutch he doesn't need. The Rep also throws literally hundreds of superfluous props at the show. I must admit their production looks modest compared with the pictures from Broadway, and the props are likely in the script, but that doesn't make them any less useless. I guess a play that requires only one actor but allows the company to fill the stage with half their prop storage is just about perfect for our declining theatre world.

28 comments:

Jeff said...

I did not even want to see the show-- something about it has always seemed bogus to me, so I'm glad for the confirmation. Ditto "Endgame" at the Rep and Gilbert and George at the MAM. I wonder what you would think about the Warhol retrospective in NYC right now.

I like lighting and props, but the Rep seems to go out of their way to prove that their expensive tickets are money well-spent.

There is a recent trend of actors playing multiple roles, sometimes with uncanny accuracy. But this is perhaps largely also dictated by financial concerns, the same reason why the three-person domestic drama has made such a comeback in recent years. Boo! Give me Checkovian-Shakespearean big casts anyday!

As a side note, Having been to East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down, I can attest to its utter lack of good qualities. It was a complete, shoddy mess, economically, esthetically and psychically-- regardless of the ideology that spawned it. Of course it's convenient to get a podium for saying so now, since fear of socialism is newborn among the power-holders!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Ben, please. You've never written "reviews" of theatre, and this certainly doesn't qualify as useful "analysis." You've done nothing but search for targets on which to focus your obvious frustration over your lack of relevance to this city or to the arts in general.
And, no, I have not seen this production -- but I knew what your review would be before you'd even written it. Your predictability and desperation has grown so tiresome...

Rex Winsome said...

Hey there! It's my biggest fan!

If i'm so tiresome and irrelevant why do you seem to read and anonymously reply to everything i write?

Do you really think that i'm going to theatre in order to search out targets for my frustration? I mean, if i was, i wouldn't be searching so hard. You'd see a lot more talk about what's going on at the skylight, or the stackner cabaret, or at least in the quadracci. The fact is, i am desperately seeking ANYONE producing relevent immediate theatre in this town, and occassionally, i find it, celebrate it, and love it. But, most of the time, i end up chasing shows that dissappoint.

Anonymous said...

"relevant immediate theatre"? Well, look no further than yourself! Insurgent is obviously the only company filling that precious void for you. Forget about the fact that no one else seems interested.

But, really, I'm done reading and commenting. Your development as a critic, a writer, and a contributing member of society are moving far too slow for my tastes. I'll turn my attention now to more promising talents. It's obvious that you're done.

Peace.

Rex Winsome said...

Shit, man, i ain't hardly even started.

michael gotch said...

hey, thanks for the opinion on our show. it's good to have people on all sides of the debate and i consider your rather lengthy dissenting opinion a victory for theatre and, in this particular case, our production of 'i am my own wife' rather than yet another example of what you seem to suggest is the prevailing failure of american theatre. that you had so much to say, both at the level of subject and execution, seems to me a good sign for audience engagement with live performance. i'm not sure i agree with all your points. perhaps i'm biased. :) but i do think you raise some valid criticisms of the script and the production. like you, i'm also a little disappointed by the play's narcissistic center, the character of the playwright, and lament that playwrights today often seem to slip into the self-absorbed world of 'meta' writing a la the film 'adaptation': e.g. when all else fails, use yourself. but i disagree with you that the play 'robs' the audience of the ability to feel anything because of it. i played the piece for large houses for four weeks and the response to it has been fantastic--and i don't just mean compliments about the production or my performance, but more importantly discussions about the play, the subject, the history, etc. many of the people i've heard from were deeply touched, often by very different elements of the story, the production. it made them want to talk, to find out more, to question. i don't see that as anything but a good thing for theatre. your tone and opening lines coupled with your self-righteous, superior hinting at an alternative universe of 'better theatre' of (one guesses) your own creation suggest a deeper resentment, bitterness and possibly frustration, not just with theatre in general, but more specifically with the milwaukee theatre/artistic community. i don't mind that you didn't like the show (thanks for thinking i was 'well trained', a compliment of some kind, i suppose, for the amount of work i and everyone else involved put into the show) but i do mind your holier than thou, poison pen approach. i can assure you that everyone involved in the production (from the top down at MRT) had the best of intentions and used their talents to present what we all thought was our best try at mounting a work that many people respect, despite some flaws. it's too bad you seem to assign us nefarious motives. we're just trying to put something out there, flaws and all. that takes a lot of hard work. what have you done, tangibly, to contribute to the improvement of american theatre these days other than spout off in a blog? that's too easy. and while it doesn't hurt to put your opinion out there, if you really gave a shit about changing the theatre, you'd be doing it. theatre, that is. good luck, man. you seem like an intelligent guy, with some strong ideas. maybe the theatre world could use your p.o.v. certainly might make more of a difference if you gave the theatres you seem to despise a run for their money. get to it. that would be exciting.

Rex Winsome said...

Michael, thank you for replying. I would've said more about your acting, which was excellent, but my reaction was mainly based on how the script fits into current trends in theatre production, as described by many people i've been researching, including for example Mike Daisey's "how theatre failed america". This is something I and Jonathan West over at Artsy Schmartzy have repeatedly attempted to create a public dialog about, but nobody in Milwaukee seems concerned, or at least they're all too afraid to say what they think.

This is a climate that has perhaps contributed to my frustration and poisoned my pen (or keyboard, that is).

I do despise the Rep's business decisions, decisions that i don't think go half far enough to keep theatre a relevant viable artistic medium into the future. I might be the most vocal about it, but I am definitely not alone in this.

Question: how many of the people in the big houses or discussions you mention will still be alive and able to support or participate in theatre in... let's say, 50 years?

I'm 30 and was propbably one of the ten youngest people there when i saw the show.

I should also point out that, i am trying my damndest to give theatres like the Rep "a run for their money". I've been producing all locally written original works on a shoestring budget here in Milwaukee for 5 years. This last summer i took one of these plays on a 2 week tour to the east coast, where we played with punk rock, metal and noise bands in basements, alleys, public parks and warehouse spaces. It is very exciting for those paying enough attention to notice and participate.

michael gotch said...

i wish you well in your endeavors. tastes vary. as far as i'm concerned, the theatre world has room for all kinds of theatre performed at all levels of proficiency and budget. i live in new york. i see shitty theatre all the time. some of it, i'm in, unfortunately. some of it is done at lincoln center and some of it is done in a bowery black box. big $ commercial musicals can rock and give you an amazing evening, they can also blow hard and waste a lot of money. small, fringe, 'edgy' shit sucks just as often and sometimes can be great, too. it depends, for me, less on the 'category' of production or the administration behind it than it does on the work in front of me. i can tell when people are paying the rent up there. putting something that means a lot to them out there. i can tell when it's phoned in, knee-jerk, self-absorbed and pretentious.

i don't know your beef with the rep. i don't understand it, but i've not been in milwaukee as long as you, so i respect that you have your reasons. again, i think the contrast that an 'institution' like the rep in milwaukee allows for groups like your own is a good one. it allows for a lot of different stuff to find its way to different audiences. the rep is a counterbalance to the black box, low budget stuff out there, which can be just as great (or bad) in a completely different way.

as far as the audience's age goes, i don't completely agree, either. i've done two shows at the rep and while the audience's median age is probably over 50, i don't think your blanket reduction of the situation is true. i was in front of that very audience you seem to know so well. i talked to them directly for two hours every night--particularly with 'wife'. there were more young people (both literally and figuratively) than you know. i heard from them after. i saw some of them twice in the audience, returning to see the show again. they liked the story, faults and all. they wanted to talk about it, for whatever reason. they connected to something. can't ask for more than that. of course i wish that theatre was more accessible and more widely attended by a greater diversity of age, race, creed, whatever, but i don't think it's dying or anywhere near it. theatres of all sizes are hurting, for complex reasons--the economy isn't helping, the high tech alternatives continue to be a drain, the quality level ebbs and flows. but it's an imperfect medium. it's like any art; for every great breakthough and success, there's 100 or more failures.

the rep and the people who work for it from the bottom to the top (who i can assure you are all people just like you and me, with jobs, families, aspirations, inspirations, disappointments) have never been anything but gracious, enthusiastic, intelligent, generous, creative and hard-working in my eyes. i think turning it into a monolithic entity, 'THE REP', as if it's the death star peopled by lock-step drones intent on crushing the life out of theatre is unfair and reductive. a hell of a lot of them work on the side at all kinds of other places, big and small, in all kinds of theatres and in all kinds of shows and give their hearts to whatever project they're working on, regardless of the prestige, the visibility, the budget. to not acknowledge that would be grossly unfair. i know jonathan west and i hope he doesn't share all the bleaker elements of your view. he didn't seem to when he came to see the show, but maybe he did.

thanks for engaging with me. it's good to hear different points of view. good luck with your work. if i'm back in milwaukee, i'll try to catch something you're doing if it's running. peace.

Rex Winsome said...

Yes, i agree that things on all levels can either rock or suck. I too have seen great and terrible theatre on both ends of the spectrum. But you've got to acknowledge that one end of that spectrum creates occasionally great and occasionally terrible theatre with most of the available resources (money, actors, designers) while the other end does the same with little or none of those resources. With this level of inequality, the big companies should be blowing the little companies out of the water everytime, and they are definitely not.

When the resources are a bit more evenly distributed, better theatre will be more consistantly produced and the medium will be better equipped to handle the challenges you describe. I say "when" not "if" because i think some of this leveling out will happen soon. It won't happen because the big companies get more generous or the donors get younger or more in touch. It'll happen because the small companies will start taking a bigger peice of the pie, or actually, because we are baking a whole new pie and are getting tired of big companies sticking their fingers in and pulling out the best talent.

For these reasons, i urge theatre artists to leave the institutional models (like the Rep's) that are failing the medium by consistantly using most of the resources to only occasionally make great theatre and work with small companies to help us more often make great theatre with far fewer resources. I'm glad to hear you do sometimes do this. I'm also thank you for discussing these ideas with me in this manner. I realize i have strong views which i don't expect everyone to agree with, but i'd much rather have them answered as you have than in the anonymous personal attacks i've grown used to from the Milwaukee theatre community.

If you want to understand my beef with The Rep, it's not with the people, I really like all the one's i've met, but with the organizational structure they work under and it's really a beef with that sort of theatre institution everywhere.

Mike Daisey's (http://www.mikedaisey.com/) "How Theatre Failed America" expresses many of the concerns i share. I think everyone trying to produce theatre in America today needs to look at what Mike is talking about. I saw Mike's other show (if you see something say something) in chicago this weekend, he's a great example of the type of solo performer show i contrasted with My Own Wife in this review.

Jonathan West definitely does not agree with me on everything. He's married to the director of one of the other companies in town that i've been most critical of. But, he does seem to agree that there ought to be a more open discussion of these subjects locally.

You're actually more likely to see my work outside of Milwaukee for at least the next six months. We'll be touring with Paint the Town more than anything else.

michael gotch said...

totally disagree with your marxist, spread the wealth and eat the rich take on what will make theatre great--mike daisey aside. disagree that your vaguely defined 'resources' argument--which somehow manages to both damn and pine for more of them--breeds better product. it's not an economics game, for me. you can make great stuff at the rep, you can make great stuff in your garage. it's not the rep's fault that you don't have 'resources', whatever that means. the subtextual victimization in your latest post really turns me off. people will come see anything if it's worth seeing, regardless of the 'resources' behind it. good luck.

Rex Winsome said...

Michael, i'm sorry to hear that my perspective doesn't work for you. I guess maybe you're rethinking this statement: "maybe the theatre world could use your p.o.v. certainly might make more of a difference if you gave the theatres you seem to despise a run for their money."

Cuz my p.o.v. comes directly from my experiences trying to give the system a run for it's money.

I don't expect it to be an "economics game" for you, you're an actor. but when you're running a theatre company, you've GOT to play the economics game, and after five years of passing on all the ways that my art could be compromised to benefit the company economically, i'm getting more and more radical and antagonistic in my approach and p.o.v.

I've also learned a lot observing other companies that face those same compromises. Here are some examples:

1. There's a company that closed a few years ago who knew they could've stayed open if they'd only pass on producing Caryl Churchill plays and do more Polish Jokes.

2. There used to be a company here that was one of the longest running experimental theatre companies in the country, they founded a little theatre space that started the revitalization of the 3rd ward and then were basically pushed out of their space by a company producing big terrible operas and musicals.

3. There are the many companies with an Artistic Directors who only risk including ONE show they actually want to do in their seasons, leaving the others to pander to donors.

4. There's a company here the director of which has simply accepted losing thousands of dollars of his personal money on every production.

From your perspective it's really easy to say something like: "people will come see anything if it's worth seeing, regardless of the 'resources' behind it." but if you tried walking in some of those people's shoes, you'd soon recognize that, sorry, the theatre world is just not as simple or honest as that.

I don't mean to sound victimized, I recognize that it's my responsibility to find an economic model and business plan which will retain the actors and techs who're currently being scooped up for shitty roles and exploitation by UWM and the establishment theatres. I intend to do so, but part of doing that requires a hard look at the economics and it requires helping those actors and techs recognize just how raw a deal they're getting when they go through those traditional channels, and how the traditional channels are fucking up the future of the entire theatre medium.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Turk.
Quick comment. I was quite amused at your comment about playwrights putting themselves in their own plays and how it "lazily spoonfeed[s] an audience." From a playwright's perspective, I do not agree with your point of view. As playwrights, we try to be the most creative and innovative storytellers but sometimes we don't know how to "work" a play. Sometimes it needs a voice that can take us through the journey. There is nothing wrong with putting ourselves in a play. Especially if we wrote it. To hell with hiding behind characters.
But I do have to admit, I have seen your plays so I do understand exactly what you mean when it comes to "spoonfeeding."
I agree that what you create is new. But the words "innovative" and "compelling" never come to my lips when your shows are over.
I'm not a big REP fan but I will see their CHRISTMAS CAROL everyday for the rest of my life than watch another Insurgent show.
That's just how I feel based on your last production.
Keep putting that pen to paper though. And stop worrying about what you are against and start understanding(and creating) what you are for.
Sincerely,
An ex-Milwaukee playwright.
PS. I don't suggest you leave a comment. I doubt I will be back to your blog to read it. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, he'll leave a comment! Too young and dumb to know when to quit...
(and Ben is always in his own plays -- no decent actor will work with the dolt!)

Rex Winsome said...

ex-milwaukee playwright,

Thank you for the feedback, i appreciate it. I'd respond to it, but obviously you don't want that.

I remain utterly confused as to what you anonymous posters' intentions are. You aren't disagreeing with my statements, but only with the fact that i dare make any such statements. Are you trying to make me quit doing theatre? Are you trying to piss me off? Cuz you aren't succeeding. All you are doing is demonstrating that ignorant cowards don't like me or my work, which to anyone who's opinion i actually respect, will read like a ringing endorsement.

I don't know if you people realize how silly this is, and how even Gotch's comments make the theatre community look completely closed to criticism and feedback. THIS is part of the reason that theatre so often fails to connect with new energy, new audiences or young people, it's a very closed and terribly thin-skinned community.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like sour grapes from the one person in the discussion that ain't gettin' paid in this theatre game. Or even gettin' seen, for that matter.

Jonathan West said...

Ben Rex and Gang,

Jonathan West here. Had to chime in quickly. Very quickly. Friends over at the Rep told me that I was mentioned in this post (Artsy Schmartsy has no "z" Winsome, go back to school, will you). Rex, it's like the Rep has started an FBI file on you. Congratulations! I, of course, assume that you will end up working for the company someday and win "most valud employee", you ultimate conversion will be so transformative.

Gotch, I disagree uniformly with Rex's assessment of I AM MY OWN WIFE. I thought it was one of the most effective things I've seen at the big house in a while, and you were dreamy. I don't disagree with Mr. Charm Winsome on open dialogue. We disagree on the manner of it, however. He's a screamer. I'm a little less loud. Maybe it's because I'm toothless from being the artistic director of that company who like Caryl Churchill more than Polish Jokes (not sly enough to trick even me Rex). In any event, nice to see that Rex is stirring things again. We need more stirring. It brings up "vigorous debate" (I'm fresh from debate watching) that we all so need in this community. I have more to say, and hope to say it soon, but duty calls to finish writing a book about the history of Milwaukee theater which, as you can well imagine, will explain everything and put anyone's doubts about anything to rest (insert ironic chuckle here).

Also, though Rex and I coudn't disagree more about politics and even what we want to eat for lunch, I applaud him always and encourage us all to think about the arts in terms other than those related to "our little game". The fact of the matter is Rex, Gotch, me and anyone else chatting about this stuff already likes art and theater and shit. It's the "Joe plumber's" (my God, I can't believe I'm quoting McCain, I will be washing my hands after I type this) who need to realize art and all the shit we do is cool. My two cents. I sense that there is great love between us all, the question is, how do we have our first real kiss and do something proactive that creates a firestorm of enthusiasm about art so that Gotch doesn't need to play to just 120 people a night and feel happy about it, and Rex can take his red paint play in a van across the country and fight back throngs up eager people who want to watch a messy play and get messy with the playwright after it all.

Rex Winsome said...

Schmartsy,

Thanks for the input. It's funny, i'll admit that i'm much more "a screamer" than you, but you really should hear my friends, people on the edges of "our little game" who wonder why the hell i even try and talk to theatre people at all. "everyone needs to fuck off and die" is a recent quote that comes to mind.

And, Fuckface (sorry, i don't know how else to refer to anonymous posters), in Gotch's first response he accused me of spouting off in a blog without producing theatre, then later he implied what you now overtly state, that my criticism is just sour grapes the bitterness of a failing theatre artist.

This begs the question that would be obvious if you people had an ounce of introspection: is there ANY position from which one can legitimately level criticism at you or your work?

It sure doesn't seem like it, it seems like this conversation perfectly demonstrates the insularity of the theatre establishment, which is by itself reason enough for not only "Joe Plumber" to stay far the fuck away from you, but also all kinds of artists in other far more mature and adult communities. Yes, i am saying that kids in the punk rock community are on the whole more mature than the theatre world.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'll take criticism from someone who has accomplished something in the medium. Once you've earned some credentials, I'll provide you comps to whatever I'm producing at the time. And we'll exchange ideas and critiques post-show, over brandy and cigars - my treat! (I won't hold my breath...)

And, really? "Fuckface"? Thanks for demonstrating your maturity.

BTW -- "punk rock"?! You wouldn't know what that menas if it bit you in your tight, privileged ass. What are you, like, 50?!

Rex Winsome said...

and i prefer to take criticism from people who aren't too afraid to tell me their name. What, will these fabled comps be blank and i have to guess which show i'm invited to?

You can keep your brandy and cigars. I'll be drinking tap water on a ratty couch with the noise kids, probably until i am fifty.

Whatever "credentials" you give a shit about are exactly the ones i do not need.

Rex Winsome said...

Sorry, that response focused on your ignorant and petty insults and not on the scraps of actual content in your statement.

what i should have said is: your requirement that critics not only be theatre artists, but theatre artists who have earned credentials within your community FURTHER DEMONSTRATES your insularity and the isolation of your community. Again we see why the traditional theatre community is doomed. You are shooting yourself in the face, but then, i guess that makes sense, since you won't let anyone else close enough to shoot you themselves.

Anonymous said...

bingo! we all knew an indirect physical threat was forthcoming. Ah, violence -- the ultimate resort of the ignorant class.

quad erat demonstrandum

cheers!

Rex Winsome said...

you've got to be kidding me.

you are the silliest person ever.

michael gotch said...

careful. you risk becoming that thing you're damning others for: insular and incapable of taking criticism. before you reduce everything i wrote to a convenient support of your own rather insular arguement, i think you should admit that i was pretty open to your criticism from the start, just didn't agree with all of it. most of it, actually, but i did listen to it and took the time to respond to it. some of it i agreed with--in relation, at least, to the subject of 'wife'. far from being 'closed to criticism' and/or preventing you from leveling your criticism and/or 'further demonstrating the insularity of the establishment blah blah blah', i engaged with it and with you. to claim that somehow those who disagree with you aren't allowing your criticism 'in', or that their own views, which may intersect with, diverge from, riff on, your own are invalid and rigid when they're contrary is ridiculous. you're entitled to your opinion, man. fire away. i don't see anything in my dialogue with you thus far (on my part, at least) that suggests i had my fingers in my ears, or tried to silence you, or refused to acknowledge what i interpreted as your point. i heard you, just wasn't buying, for the most part. and that's o.k. on both sides.

Rex Winsome said...

Michael, most of my response here was to the anonymous poster who you must admit has pretty much confirmed all my points for me. It surprises me that rather than distancing yourself from his ridiculous position you give me this "i know you are but what am i" response.

Like i said in my first response, the climate this anonymous poster represents has perhaps poisoned my pen, this is a climate that i've been struggling to produce work in for five years.

i see this anonymous poster's perspective echoed throughout the establishment theatre community in the dialog (or lack thereof) surrounding Mike Daisey's "how theatre failed america".

I also see it echoed in your comments. You have been more open than most (i was surprised you responded at all) and i appreciate and applaud that, perhaps i could have done so louder and sooner. seriously, thank you.

But, let me point out a few examples of
"anything in my dialogue with you... that suggests i had my fingers in my ears, or tried to silence you, or refused to acknowledge what i interpreted as your point."

From the start you made it clear that you were speaking from a privaledged position and some of your statements took the form of condescending attacks on my style or perspective (contradicting other comments) rather than answers to my points. I was trying to write about the rep and 'wife' but you turned the dialog on to me.

You made the initial assumption that i don't "really give a shit about theatre" because i'm not doing anything other "than spout off in a blog". So what if i was just an audience member who spouted off in a blog? Isn't theatre made and presented to audiences, and aren't those audiences allowed to evaluate the art presented to them, regardless of who they are, what they think or what their relationship to the art is?

Then after i point out your error you go on to put words in my mouth: "eat the rich... it's not the rep's fault" and accuse me of "subtextual victimization" which is a way of dodging my critique by insulting me and does imply the "sour grapes" accusation that our anonymous friend overtly states. This is all i ever accused you of, am i wrong?

Then you recite the "people will come see anything if it's worth seeing, regardless of the 'resources' behind it" dogma, which you may not realize, is all but saying that: A. my work is not worth seeing. B. Jonathan West's work (outside of stuff like Polish Joke) was not worth seeing. C. Theatre X's work was not worth seeing. D. the initial productions of Samuel Beckett's work was not worth seeing. At least not worthy enough to sustain themselves. I'm sorry, but this is an insult. One which I'll forgive, cuz i don't mind being insulted, but which other struggling playwrights and theatre artists i know will not.

It also means E. "Isn't it Romantic" is more worthy than "I am My Own Wife" because economic pressures within this model have led The Rep to cut back the runs of it's Stiemke shows and expand it's Stackner Cabaret series.

I am not saying that my work definitely IS worth seeing, maybe i suck, sometimes in some ways i definitely do, and i am certainly not entitled to a right to have my work produced. But, if you ignore or deny the impact of institutional frameworks and structures of the theatre world, and make these assumptions about anyone critical of those structures, then you are saying that a whole TON of work that i and many others give a shit about, work that is being neglected in favor of big dumb musicals and shakespeare, is worthless.

michael gotch said...

i'm wondering what "privaledged [your spelling] position" i occupy. you tell me i should 'walk in others shoes', to paraphrase another of your admonishments. trust me, i have and will most likely again. i wasn't born into the higher LORT theatres in one-man shows. i don't reside in them exclusively and have nothing against black box, small budget productions, as i've already told you. if a show's good, i'll do it in a garage or in a 1500 seat house. but this is all stuff i've already written about here on your site in my comments. read them again. it might help.

Rex Winsome said...

My point is that you don't seem to think there's anything wrong with current trends in the theatre world. You'll work in black boxes, that's great.

Do you think that it's okay that a black box that produces good theatre 80 percent of the time is pushed out of business by institutionalized 1500 seat houses that produce work designed to pander to rich donors 80 percent of the time?

Do you think it's okay that a company like the rep is one of the few remaining companies that employs an ensamble cast of artists full time while every major theatre employs full time admin staff with benefits and pay exceeding what the artists make? Or spends more money on the buildings you work in than on the work being done there?

Do you think it's okay that at the same time people like richard flordia are demonstrating the increased value created by artists and the creative class, the economic lives of those creatives are becoming more and more precarious?

My original review of this show was an attempt to describe how Wife is largely a product of those trends, and how the rep's decision to produce it is indicative of the rep's commitment to that sort of theatre world.

I'm glad to hear that you do not reside exclusively in that world. I've devoted my life to creating an alternative world for artists. I urge you and all artists to critically engage with these issues, and hope you choose to participate less in these kind of institutions.

michael gotch said...

while i disagree with your claim that black box theatre has a success rate of 80% (you obviously don't get to new york or chicago much and if you do, then we have very different ideas on what 'good' black box theatre is), i do agree with you that the economic lives of theatre artists are growing more and more precarious.

Rex Winsome said...

Oh, i didn't mean to say that all black box theatre's have a success rate of 80%, i meant to say that some black box theatre's with a success rate of 80% are being pushed out of business by big dumb musicals companies.

I put the majority of the blame for artist's increasing precariousness on the obsolete institutions that currently dominate the theatre scene.