Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two Metaphors about the "Outrageous Fortune" Convening

Still processing yesterday's Outrageous Fortune community discussion (hosted by Theater Bay Area, who liveblogged it here). So there'll be more from me on this topic, but to start it off, I just wanted to post two thoughts/metaphors I had about the book and the conversation it has inspired:

God is dead: As a theater artist, reading Outrageous Fortune is like learning that God is dead. (if God = the regional theater system.) And that thought can be really horrifying, or it can be really liberating. In a weird way, it goes back to what I was saying about Angels & Insects last week: when Darwin's theories came out, they provoked a crisis of faith in many Victorian people... and some people responded to this crisis by saying "Darwin can't be right" and developing cockamamie spiritualist ideas, and others said "Wow, so everything on this earth evolved from something else, according to natural selection? That's really COOL!" And I suppose that people chose their position on this depending on how much it hurt them to give up their old beliefs.

So, as I've said, I was lucky to be young and to read Outrageous Fortune before I got completely invested in the old system, and therefore I can be "tacitly optimistic" about it... I can find it weirdly liberating. It's funny, I thought the lesson I was going to take from Outrageous Fortune and the surrounding discussion was "it doesn't have to be a rat race, you don't have to hustle, that mentality is unhealthy and perpetuates a broken system, it's OK you're taking a breather." But just when I came to that conclusion, I've suddenly started working harder and getting more involved in the theater scene here than ever. I think it's because I am no longer afraid. No longer afraid I might anger people, or worried that I have to conceal parts of myself because "if I make one false move, then every grad school will reject me." In my youthful hubris, I used to think that if I just played the game with more smarts and stealth than anyone else did, I'd succeed. I was going to game the system, and that requires you to lay low and wait for an opportunity to pounce. But now I see that the system can't be gamed. And, moreover, it isn't worth gaming--God is dead! Therefore my fears are baseless and should die too... and why shouldn't I put myself out there and learn by doing and trying and failing? Much better than laying low and making a move only when you think that success is guaranteed--because, in the American theater, success is never guaranteed, so all I did for the last year was wait, and for what? For Godot!

The blind men and the elephant: We can agree that discussion is a wonderful thing--and it was mostly playwrights in the room yesterday, so you are not likely to find a group of people more predisposed to "discussion and dialogue" anywhere! But discussing Outrageous Fortune can be difficult because the book covers so much ground, and points out so many things that are wrong with the American theater, but also points out that many of them are connected. There is no logical point to begin the discussion--which means that everyone winds up approaching it from their own starting point, according to the issues that personally inspire them the most. At least, that's how I felt during yesterday's conversation--everybody had their own issues that they wanted to be heard, but it was harder to advance the dialogue beyond the point of airing grievances, proposing our own personal opinions on how to fix theater, and nodding assent to the best suggestions or the most commonly held complaints.

This is human nature, I know--I just kind of got a feeling that we were the blind men and the elephant, each of us seeing the problem through our own particularized lens, and not fully acknowledging that it was an elephant--an elephant in the room!

And maybe a way to start solving problems is for everyone to just jump in and tackle the issues that resonate most with them, because concerning oneself with the big picture can get too overwhelming... but my worry is that that will lead to a diffusion of energy, that everyone will be working on separate but parallel tracks. We might need to figure out what the biggest problems are and then join our voices together to solve them; theater is marginalized enough as it is, that putting up a united-front consensus might be helpful.

Then again: when your art form is all about letting different voices speak and be heard, perhaps you have a natural aversion to consensus and unanimity...

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