Thursday, January 15, 2009


One of the things I like about blogging is that the dialogue that develops usually reinforces my perception that some very smart, thoughtful, and perceptive people work in Richmond theater. I greatly appreciate Mr. Tuggle’s explanation about the selection of “Cuckoo’s Nest” for the Acts of Faith festival. It shows his commitment as a director that he did the research and considered carefully the symbolic aspects of the story he’d be telling.

As I thought about what to say to rejoin the conversation (and, to some extent, explain the point of view of my published piece about the festival), Mr. Hamm provided an excellent metaphor. If it’s not clear, let me state that I totally support the idea of the Acts of Faith festival – or, in fact, of any festival that encourages cooperation between theaters and helps promote theater to the wider community. However, I had several conversations with people about the festival in the past several weeks and the issue that continued to come up had to do with justification, that is, what makes a show appropriate for the festival. And a consistent sentiment I heard expressed was that just about anything could be justified. As I think about many of the shows that I enjoyed last fall – “Eurydice,” “The Clean House,” “Hamlet,” etc. – it seemed to me that this could be true. A clear majority of the shows I could think of had a thematic element that could be construed to be about faith, spirituality, values, morality, etc. (RTP’s “Bite Me!” was the only one I really had trouble with…)

There’s a great line in one of my favorite movies, “The Incredibles,” where the villain Syndrome says, “When everyone’s super, no one will be.” If everything’s about faith, then what are we really talking about? That is what's behind my question “What is this festival really about?” My concern is not that the shows chosen don’t say anything about faith but more that nearly everything is being construed as being about faith. I appreciate looking at theater / art through the lens of faith (to get back to Mr. Hamm); my impression, however, is that the festival does not seem (IMHO) to be doing much to focus that lens.

I accept that “Cuckoo’s Nest” has a clear Christ metaphor going on, something cool that I hadn’t really thought about before. But Christ metaphors are relatively ubiquitous, used in books as divergent as 1984 and the Narnia series, and in movies like “Cool Hand Luke.” But I don’t experience “Cool Hand Luke” as a rumination on faith.

I guess I wonder whether there might be opportunities for subtitling or “tracks” associated with the festival. Examples --> Acts of Faith: The Christ metaphor. Or Acts of Faith: Coping with Family Dynamics. Or Acts of Faith: Faith and History. I have gone to a fair amount of business-related conferences where this kind of thing is done to help attendees organize their thinking about what might be sessions worth their attention. Otherwise, you have people wandering around wondering where they should go. I’m afraid that might happen to folks when they approach Acts of Faith.

I don’t mean to stir up issues solely to cause heartburn, honestly. But in addition to providing some publicity for the festival, I kind of hoped to promote some critical thinking. Y'all can judge whether I was successful or not.

1 comment:

Angela said...

The "Incredibles" analogy is reasonable, but not air-tight, because being a superhero (particularly of a Disney movie) is a relatively static thing. Faith, on the other hand, is ever-changing. Much can change--even within a single year's time, within a single audience member's life--to shade his or her understanding of faith.

I'm pretty sure that most every play IS about faith for someone, somewhere, somehow. And so what? The Acts of Faith Festival is a pretty darn clever way to appeal to lots of people, especially in a conservative town.

(Not to mention that Boomer market research shows they're increasingly interested in issues related to faith, meaning and religion in their own lives.)

Sure, let's ramp up the star factor in Richmond, but the AOF folks have already found their star. It just happens to be a concept, not a person.

But you're absolutely right that Richmond theaters need to get savvy when it comes to PR and marketing. And get practical--there's no excuse for not getting timely press releases to every print and electronic media source in the region.