Thursday, May 10, 2007

Still Standing, but Tired

At 3am, I tend not to want to focus on any Tivo-d program and thus I channel surf. I just happened to land on a repeat of the sitcom Still Standing the other day. Now, because of the involvement of Jami Gurtz, I feel like I must have watched this show once when it first began, but I don't remember. And I flipped on, saw Sally Struthers and kept it on for a minute, just long enough to hear this exchange.

Gurtz: "We saw Menopause the Musical."

Mark Addy (playing her husband): "That's a real show?"

Gurtz: "No, but that didn't stop them from putting it on anyway."

Which leads me to something I often ask myself--what constitutes theater? Is anything on a stage theater or does it have to have some element of theatricality to it? And what the hell does that even mean?

Ninety percent of readers have just clicked off. To the remaining 10% of you, thank you for your support, I offer you no answers. I do not like a lot of theater. But I give it credit for being theater, I suppose. Who are we to judge what is theater after all? I mean, if it's on the tv, it's considered television. And I think people going around trying to decide what theater is and is not, just makes us seem like pretentious snobs.

Like, I could say there is nothing really theatrical about The Year of Magical Thinking. But that is in a Broadway house and features an acclaimed theater actress. If I argued it wasn't actually theater, I fear I'd be in for a community exile, even from people who hated it.

That is enough of that. Completely unrelated note--The Times story on Henry Miller's Theater (completely with a nifty rendering of it) made me wonder whether Henry Miller's Theater will automatically be considered a Broadway house (as it is called in the story) or will it have to re-apply for Tony consideration. It will, after all, be a new theater, albeit one with an old name and facade. Of course it will be easily granted Tony eligibility and thus this will all just be formality, but I just wonder whether Roundabout will have to go through the steps.

OK, I need to stop all this crap now and, as a final note tonight, promote something that I know very little about. Everyone who knows me knows I so rarely see anything off-off-Broadway. I don't get the randomness of it all--there is not enough hours in the day. But every once and a while I get a release that sounds like it could be sort of funny. This company called The Milk Can Theatre Company (, which Bethany from the press office Barlow-Hartman is involved with, is doing a series of short plays inspired by recipes randomly drawn from a hat. Bethany has a 10-minute play, directed by press agent Ryan Ratelle, and it's inspired by an eggnog cheesecake recipe. Seriously. I had no idea there even was eggnog cheesecake, so, I learned something new just from the release.


Seth Christenfeld said...

My personal belief is that it's not theatre without spectators. You could stick something on stage, but until there are people watching, it's not theatre.

(And just because it's theatre, that doesn't mean that it's good theatre.)

RLewis said...

Cara, i'm fine with 90% of folks clicking off on this topic, but it's one that facinates me. However, I'm not sure whether your asking "what makes theater?" or "what makes performance?" - maybe splitting hairs, but i do think there's a difference.

Performance Studies departments have been all over the later for decades, and seems to come back to the ole aesthetics adage - "it's art if i say it's art". Then it's just a matter of defining whether it's good art/performance or bad art/performance. Stanislavski has an endless section in one of his acting books that just focuses on one single gate (a walking stride), but is that acting? We report, you decide.

My group, Peculiar Works, often stradles the theater/performance art canyon, because we do lots of theater, we just don't usually do it in theaters. The site-specific and multi-disciplinary aspects of our work gets us reviewed in the dance/performance art section as often as in the theater section.

We've put on many shows that had many spectators, but I wouldn't always called what they saw "theater". So, I come back to things like: story and conflict as more vital elements of theater, but maybe not so much narrative or sceneography. Whereas Performance Art while still a show doesn't need to rely on such theatrical conventions.

I enjoy this type of shop-talk, because I'm not sure there is one answer to such questions. But i do find it interesting how little crossover there is in the two communities. Most do either one or the other but not both. Lastly, if your interested in broadening the scope of what's possible, I'd recommend this weekend's event at Cooper Union:

Anonymous said...

I wonder if those 90% clicked off, not because the question was pretentious, but because they knew you weren't going to go any further with it.

It's actually a very interesting question. And you're smart and engaging enough to offer some thoughts. But, unfortunately, like 50% of the postings on this blog, you're too lazy or too busy or something to offer anything more than half-baked musings.

Sorry to be harsh. But I get frustrated by this site. You have the potential to offer something really hard-hitting, passionate, and intelligent. And, for the moment, you have an audience to share it with. Please do. I want this site to be what it promises to be.