So Dave was in New York last weekend and I was in Austin, Tx. Hmmm. There is a relationship here somewhere. My mission was a bit different though. I did not experience the joi de vie of life without kids, my venture was a family visit to my husband's Aunt who lives in a hoidy-toidy Austin suburb. Since Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World (so they tell me), seeing a show was not forefront on my mind but I did see one play- more about that later. Austin has a fabulous arts scene in terms of performing arts. "THe Austin Chronicle", a cultural cross between "Style" and "Brick", is packed with, of course, live music choices but also lots of good theater. I really wanted to see a good rockabilly band but alas it was not in the stars. I let my husband choose the band to see since he is the music buff in the family and we ended up at the Cactus Cafe on the UT campus to see an acoustic show featuring John Wesley Harding who I do not remember at all but apparently had made some name for himself in the '80's - it is all such a blur. He was a wonderful showman but I had to fight to stay awake.
Now about the theater experience. A little background:
My husband's family live under the charming illusion that because I do not have a job in which I go to an office from nine to five and make $150,000 plus a year to support their darling son/grandson/nephew, that I must sit on my fanny, eat bon bon's and watch Jerry Springer and Soap Operas all day. In their eyes I am valuable only as the mother of their next generation and when I stopped producing related off-spring they decided that they were pretty much done with any effort on my part. My husband's aunt had no idea that I ever had anything to do with theater much less write about it. So upon learning that I am, among other things, a theater critic, she became overwhelmed with the idea that I must see a show while in town. More information necessary to fully understand this situation is that my darling husband's family and I do not share the same taste so when she chose "Tuna Vegas" over some more meaty and interesting plays I was a little disappointed. But she INSISTED despite my pleas to beg off. So on Sunday night we drove into town and saw "Tuna Vegas" at the gorgeous historical Paramount Theater. The Paramount is like a western version of the Empire. It is about the same age and a similar style except that its interior features dessert colors like burnt orange and sage green mixed in with the gold leafed accents an lots of dark red Texas roses. The play was good if not my taste. I missed some of the jokes because they were insider Texas jokes but the characters were humorous and well- developed. If you are not familiar with the "Tuna" plays: These two actors came up with this idea to write a play about the third smallest town in Texas with two actors and a dozen or so different characters. They started this concept 22 years ago and have been performing the "Tuna" plays all over the world ever since. Apparently "Tuna Vegas" is better if you have seen the other plays and are familiar with the reappearing characters. As I said, they were funny but I got very antsy. These guys are getting a little slow on the costume changes so there was some kind of dead time throughout. What was really impressive though was the pantomime. They use no props. All card playing, cig smoking, coffee making etc was pantomime. These guys were so smooth at one point I found myself surprised at the realization that one of the actors was not really holding a glass of water that they had just "poured".
So that was my Texas live theater experience. I did get some nice boots too.
Now that the NEA Arts Journalism Institute application is safely sent to LA, may we open the discussion of "What is the State of American Theater"? I said in my essay that I feel that American Theater is as relevant in our culture as ever. That I am optimistic about it's future because as an art form it is due for a resurgence. I see this resurgence in popularity coming from our youth. I know it sounds crazy. The idea that these media savvy and oriented kids are going to get into live theater but think about it. Observation 1: There are oodles of theater training programs for youth these days. We have about a dozen right here in Richmond (I am writing a story about this but it is slow coming due to the volume of information and the lack of a deadline). Kids and parents can choose private programs all year long or no-fee or low-fee programs from Henley Street (free) or the Department of Rec and Parks (Pine Camp has a good one for a low fee). There are programs like Will Power to Youth that has been in LA for 14 years and piloted in Richmond last summer (go to www.styleweekly.com, arts and culture, then search for past articles). National programs like the NEA's Shakespeare in America from which companies like the Staunton Shakespeare Theater receive grants to involve young people in Shakespeare plays. The end result will be supporters of live theater. Theory: With all of the non-human involvement of electronic media, these kids will crave the spontaneity and reality of live theater as they get older. The pendulum of popularity swings.
Okay, that is the beginning of my thoughts. Have at it.