Thursday, November 01, 2007

What is the State of American Theater?

I am applying for an NEA sponsored program for theater writers and one of the questions on the application is: What are your thoughts on the state of American Theater? I find this question confusing. What does it mean? Is it a comparison ie the state of American Theater compared to theater elsewhere? Is it a question of volume ie. is there enough good theater out there? Enough good material to produce? Is it a quality question as in Is American theater any good? or evolving? or relevant to our time? or innovative? Is it a question of survival? Is American theater standing up to other entertainment options? is it financially solvent?

I would love your thoughts on defining this question and how you think it should be answered. You - the active theater population- are the front line of this question and your ideas, comments, observations etc are the most valid.



Andrew Hamm said...

Wow. Generic question, anyone? When you apply for a job at NASA do they ask you "What is your opinion on space?"

But sorry, Mary. You have my love and best wishes, but I'm not doing your homework for you. ;-) You're asking great questions, though.

I do need to point out that there are those who will judge your view of the art by whether you spell it "R-E" or "E-R." It's stupid, I know, but I've seen it in action in the world of theatre criticism and academia, which you are certainly diving into with this application.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Our theatre critic, ladies and gentlemen...

Le Synge Bleu said...

mary, this is an excellent opportunity for YOU to choose what the question means to you...i think that's probably why its so purposefully open ended. pick what speaks to you most on the gut level as a theatre writer and find what your specific angle is (gotta have a gimmick, right?) and then add in a bit of your own brand of humor for good measure and you should be just fine. i could give you opinion and tell you what i would write about, but that wouldn't really help you at all in the long run. the answer needs to be your very specific take on things- it needs to be a reflection of you, not of the richmond theatre population.

Le Synge Bleu said...

anon, your anger tires me. might you be a bit more productive using all that energy in other ways than to spread your largely ignored sarcasm across the blogosphere? perhaps i am uber hormonal today, but really i would encourage you to pursue other more productive and creative outlets than a second rate half-assed vendetta against someone who clearly rubbed your super sensitive ego the wrong way. big freakin deal, anon. there are much worse things in life than a critic you don't agree with. i sincerely hope you don't have to experience any of these, but when you do, you'll understand my total lack of patience with your immaturity.

Robinitaface said...

No offense, Mary, but I'm going to respectfully decline giving you the answer as well. As this seems to be an editorial exercise, I think the question is posed in such open fashion in order to make the journalists think and form their own opinions.

Good Luck!

Frank Creasy said...

Well Mary, I do hope you get the grant though I can't say the NEA is an organization that draws my respect...but given the nature of the organization, I'd suggest answering it from the perspective of RELEVANCE (one of the possibilities you offered up).

I doubt the NEA is concerned with the business/financial aspect, since their organization is not driven by free market forces; and the NEA doesn't seem to be doing a whole lot to improve QUALITY of education in this country either (so theatrical quality wouldn't be meaningful to them, I believe). So, I'd presume something more esoteric, such as "relevance" (a very subjective characteristic) might appeal to such an organization!

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I do think that the whole point is for you to figure out how to pin down the question. I believe they are looking for your creative and original perspective on what is surely a tired question that has been bandied about for ages. How can you answer that question that showcases your unique viewpoint - not ours.
So - the question is not what we think (both the theatre professionals here and fans such as myself - egad, yes there are fans here!), but what do you think?
Even coming at this from the viewpoint of a theatregoer, I know ways I would answer that question. But since you are the writer, it really needs to come from you.

RVA theatregoer

Frank Creasy said...

Umm - it occurs to me that you may have been referring to the National Endowment for the Arts, and I took your meaning to be the National Education Association. If so, my apologies...I know very little about the latter organization.

So let me go on record by saying I believe in endowing the arts, though I encourage more private than public funding - that's why I give the lion's share of my charitable donations to local theatre organizations.

The National Education Association...well, still not a fan of their work!

blogva said...

Thanks you guys. Your collective insight, as always, is just the right message: I do need to work it out for myself. And Frank, your suggestion of writing about relevance was really helpful. I thiink I have some good direction now.
Just for the record, I did not take offense to Anonymous' comment- although it is kind of you to stick up for me Le Synge Bleu. I can see where "Anon" is coming from whether he/she is truly sarcastic or just having fun. I know I am not the best writer out there. One of the reasons this workshop is important to me is the opportunity to become a better writer and theater critic. I feel that a person can always grow, learn, and improve and it is exciting to be offered such a great opportunity to do so. I know I am not the BEST I can be but I will keep trying to improve. It is all any of us can do.

In terms of the questions- I reserve the right to pose it again after Tuesday when I will send in my application.
Thanks for the luck and the good comments. I am truly grateful to you all.

Frank Creasy said...

Should you get the chance to participate Mary, I'd be very interested (as I'm sure others would) in what you gain from it in a future blog posting.

You mention your intention to improve your writing skills...if the "state of American theatre" (however that is defined) is to improve, those of us who step out onstage have to commit to our OWN improvement. I'm not, nor will I ever be, Olivier or Brando. I just want to be the best Creasy. Programs such as the ones sponsored by Richmond Shakespeare (where I just enjoyed participation in Jennifer Massey's "Acting Like a Person" workshop) can help actors in the Richmond theatre community to hone our craft.

Again, all the best to you...a commitment to learn and to improve is the sure way to enhance your skill. Vince Lombardi once said (I'm paraphrasing here): "Gentlemen, we will pursue perfection in the knowledge we will never achieve it. But in that pursuit we will achieve excellence."

Dave T said...

Hey Mary,
I don't know if this is too late or helpful at all, but the full question on the application is "Comment on the state of American Theater and journalism and what you think is the critic's role." Given the focus of the institute and the fellowship, I would consider the intersection of journalism and theater and what you consider your relevance / responsibility at that intersection. It's just the way I read it, but I don't think they're looking for any conclusive statements on the general state of theater. I think they're trying (in their tricky application writing way...) to tease out of you another statement of your sense of yourself and how you might benefit from the program.

Good luck!

Le Synge Bleu said...

mary, my turn to make a statement for the was actually more exasperation with what i perceived as someone taking themselves way too seriously than sticking up for you. you're a big girl, you can stick up for yourself when needed and i trust you would. i don't know you or enough of your non-blog writing to have an opinion one way or another at this point, so i wouldn't blindly defend. all i can do is respond to what i read here, and that i did.

i do hope you get a chance to stretch your creative typing fingers, though. i'm a firm believer in always challenging yourself and pushing the personal boundaries in what you do. workshops, classes etc are pretty vital to that process.