A guest post from Marcella Renee' Murray (SLC 17)
Recently Theatre Artist and writer, Nicholas Berger, publish an article on Medium subtitled "Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making". Alumna, Marcella Renee' Murray (SLC 17) has a provocative response. Read and comment below.
I’m interested in what other theatre folks think of this article, "The Forgotten Art of Assembly Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making". Respectfully, of course.
I’ll start because I don’t believe in asking potentially contentious questions without being upfront about where I stand, but feel free to disagree! (It isn’t to color your opinion. So, totally feel free to skip straight to writing your opinion, if you want. No big.)
So, I’ll start by saying that I don't think anything is as simple as all this. I certainly agree that people shouldn’t feel that they HAVE to make and it is certainly worth questioning why we want to share...but...
1. I think people want to connect with other people. That we cannot do so in our typical fashion is pretty painful to me. That I’d not see others express this same feeling in some way would be beyond pain and terror to me. It is the feeling I get when I hear the president talk. The feeling that either I’ve lost the plot or everyone else has decided to lie to kick it... and I missed the memo.
We can’t connect the way we want to, but theatre makers keep trying. And I can’t really express... hadn’t really thought to express... how much I needed proof that others want to connect as desperately as I do. It’s a ridiculous exercise in vulnerability and yet...
I dunno. Why else do we do this?
I’ve really found comfort in knowing that even if it is ridiculous and unsatisfying to keep reaching out through a screen, that perhaps artists will anyway.
That we are forgoing the things we want, not because it a simple, easily accessible, human thing to do, but because we love each other.
2. If it can’t be considered “real theatre” and we can’t make “real theatre”, why does it matter if people engage as they have been or not? Why does something that is “not theatre” so deeply concern a theatre maker? If it is not theatre, why can people not do this other thing until touch and shared breathing space are safe again?
I think the actual concern behind this is the same fear of replacement expressed every few years when someone asks if theatre is dead yet. I always always always think, “No, theatre isn’t dead (Okay...okay... well...define ‘dead’)”. And it won’t ever be dead regardless of how many brilliant playwrights leave for Hollywood OR how many hashtags actors use on Instagram OR how many shows turn out to be things we’ve seen and heard before OR how often cellphones light up the house OR how much film production companies are involved... because that isn’t the measure of theatre. Not, for me anyway. I would guess for this writer too. As the writer says themself, “there’s plenty of theatre in your living room”.
Beyond that, people will certainly go back to assembling when it is safe to do so. When we have a choice, we tend to want to be with each other. This isn’t going to end and people suddenly decide they rather watch plays on their phones rather than next to a human given the choice, and ...ahem...money. (I’m not gonna go there. I’m not gonna go there. I’m not gonna go there.)
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got on that.
3. People will probably still pay to see your show if they see your messy process. They’ll probably still gasp when you manage to express a previously unexpressed truth or when you leave it all on stage. Even if they see some of your process.
I think part of this concern is the very valid philosophy that artists should kinda have a veil of mystery around them. Art is supposed to be a kind of magical reveal for an audience and a rigorous, skilled practice that lives beyond public opinion and sits squarely in the truth for the artist.
I get that. I sometimes practice it. I just don’t think that is necessarily always true. I think this is a tool. Just like The Method. It’s a tool. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. If it isn’t useful to you, let it go.
4. Art is where we’re supposed to challenge absolutes. Absolutes are never absolutely true. I think there’s any number of configurations of conflicting personal truths about theatre. So, I can’t see why any harmless practice/philosophy requires critique as opposed to conversation.
Not everyone’s theatre requires people. Not everyone’s theatre requires sharing a place and time. Not everyone’s theatre has a easily identifiable distinction between process and performance. Not everyone’s theatre has a distinction between collaborator and audience.
And being disturbed at those assertions is theatre too.
That’s not me being funny. That’s great. If that’s your reaction to the thought of theatre without people or polish or process, you’ve started tugging at something that will unravel so as to reveal something others might relate to. Sounds compelling to me. I mean, why exactly ARE we humans preferable to computers? What do we learn in attempting to ask and answer the question.
All that to say that I support whatever path people choose. I haven’t been sharing art. I’m not sure that I can or want to. I’m not sure how that works for me, but many have been sharing. And I have been edified by it.
Sometimes life turns out to be BOTH. We messy monster miracle creatures always find ways do both. So, it is usually both. And neither. But that’s another ramble.