Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Want To Be A Consumer... But Not A Destroyer

Last week my graduate class had a special guest: one of the original founders of our theatre department.

Prior to his lecture, he wanted to get to know a bit about the current class of grad students, and went around to all of us asking about our backgrounds, what kind of theatre we liked, and where we hoped to direct after graduation.

I was the last to respond, hoping that he might skip me or something. After all, there were the other grad students saying things like "I'm going to start a theatre company in rural America and provide art to people who don't otherwise get that experience," or "I'm going to go to New York and take my chances in the big leagues!"

But he didn't skip me. "You're in your final semester? Congratulations! What do you plan to do after you graduate?"

I didn't let my voice waver for a minute. "I'm going to relocate to a major city, probably the DC area, and transfer my talents to a job in a private industry. I'd love something in PR or Events Management."

"Oh," he said. "Why not theatre?"

And then I got a little chicken. The truth is, I know enough about my skills to know that, while I am a competent director on my own merits, I am in no way set up for the competitive theatre world, nor do I want to spend my time working crap jobs and doing one of the "next step" options: assistant directing "for the experience," trying to start an unpaid theatre company, etc.

But I didn't say "I'm getting out of the theatre because I'm not good enough."

I said "I feel like I've become disconnected from the world, and I need to spend some time back in the world before I direct my next piece."

Which was probably an even dumber thing to say, because his next response was a very disappointed "Theatre... makes you feel disconnected?"

And as soon as he said it, I realized my response was truer than I realized. Theatre does make me feel disconnected from the world. It shouldn't, but it does. For three reasons:

1. The theatre artist's schedule is generally "work (or take/teach classes) all day, rehearse all night." The environment quickly becomes insular and restricting.

2. 90% of the plays performed in America, at both the educational and professional levels, are revivals of "classics." Often, directors attempt to spin these plays so that they have a contemporary relevance, but... putting Henry V in modern dress so people will be reminded of the Bush administration is barely groundbreaking. All of the productions of Henry V in the past eight years don't have the impact of a single showing of Fahrenheit 9/11.

3. Due to both schedule and monetary restrictions ('cause we don't make any money), the theatre artist cannot fully participate in the world around her.

And that's what I really want, and I didn't even realize it until I said it. I want to be a participant. I don't want to live like the former child Blue, reading her parents' copies of Newsweek to memorize details about film and literature (and yes, theatre) that she was thousands of miles too far away to ever see; nor do I want to live like starving artist Blue, in Minneapolis and surrounded by culture and opportunity but too underemployed to afford any of it.

I want to be a participant. More than that, I want to be a consumer. This isn't a popular statement to make, in lieu of environmental concerns, but I don't mean that I want to be wasteful, or consume beyond my needs.

I don't want a lot of shoes, but I want to be able to replace my shoes when there are holes in the soles. (While I had the foot cast on, I spent the entire six weeks wearing a shoe with a big hole in it because that was the only one which matched the sole height of the foot-cast boot.) I don't want to buy a lot of overpackaged, overprocessed food, but I do want to have money to socialize with friends in restaurants.

I want to take a yoga class. I want to find time to volunteer for something interesting and worthwhile (which I kind of did already -- just signed up for the American Democracy Project). If I make it to DC, I'm definitely finding some way of volunteering for Team Obama.

I also want to get a little closer to current technology. I have a secret fantasy of being able to become an early adopter, but I know it will take a few income-level jumps before I get to that stage. Right now I don't even have a phone that takes photographs. ^__^

Long story short, I want to be a participant in the world, not an observer. And theatre, as enjoyable as it is, makes me feel disconnected.

Which is strange, because historically theatre people are supposed to be the types who are engaged with the world and use their talents to spur social change. Did that stop happening, outside of theatre textbooks? Or... has it all been transferred to YouTube?

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