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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

http://crosscut.com/arts-beat/2539/#comments



http://crosscut.com/arts-beat/2539/#comments

   1. My friend Arne a true man of the theater, alerted me to his piece in Crosscut, but I was going to respond anyhoo. Arne is a man with a lot of heart and the only one here whose temperament I share. Arne does a bit of the usual name dropping, mentions Handke, the great divide playwright, most of whose plays I translated and some of which I directed, work or its significance Arne didn't know when last we discussed it. Arne's call is one along the line of plaints for the mere existence of theaters, while failing to provide a rationale for their being. What if they are super-annuated, merely near private indulgence? I am puzzled whether theater in Seattle contributes anything to the milling-grinding social consciousness, whether it is any any way integral or whether its greatest benefits accrue the eateries which are so much more adventurous. Since Seattle already has a museal Opera and Ballet it might get itself a theater that does the world's great theater from ancient time to the by and large puerile present. I am not talking about theater as a diversion, as in "oh lets catch a show" ; but about a theater that serves as an enlightening and possibly consensus or not, a fractious forum-function within a social complex such as a city-region; if theater served such a function, then theaters might well deserve funding. At one time theater made news, now the news is put on in the theater for the reality-deprived reality t.v. watchers.An industrialized culture creates the culture industry - regional theaters and their dozen or so predictable chestnuts are a variation of that. That means that theater must provide experiences unique to it, not duplicate anything outside its space and confines, take itself seriously; what can still be done in theater is an experience as intense as reading: an anti-Aristotelian theater that dissociates the audience into a state of keen awareness, that cleans the audience's clocks, a subliminal catharses, that makes it leave the theater with freshened senses, for more powerful stuff than Brecht dared dream of. The dramatist who can do this, a nearly Shakespearean talent for our times is the Albatross that nourishes me, Peter Handke. Let me add a few asides on Theater in Seattle, details of my travails are at their continuance at http://www.artscritic.blogspot.com At least a half dozen mid-size theaters have gone down since I came here in summer of 1994. The "Aha", the "Ethnic-Cultural" I think it was called, Arne's "Bathhouse, " John Kazanian's "The Theater of a New City," became what's called a "mom and pop theate" when he sold the space that is now the Hugo House; the "Empty Space" finally bit the dust with yet another huge debt, the Tacoma Rep, which I visited only once, with M. Burke Walker, the founder of the original "Empty Space", and we saw an absolutely "good enough" Miss Julie; the "Fringe" which invariably had half a dozen things that I cottoned to; ACT nearly went under, shouldering a huge debt load, not long ago; no doubt others that I forget or whose demise I am unaware of. Aside the failure, not just of these theaters, to be self-supporting [say, by doing "heartfelt, utterly needed work" in the likes of a bombed-out cellar!] but of the culture's failure to renew the audience - the need for theater as a possible public forum, unifier - instead of a middle class fancy - these theaters went down because there are no critics to speak of, or rather because of miserable critics [right now there is but a one I pay heed to: Annie Wagner of "The Stranger"]; because editors lack either courage or ability to hire critics [Joe Adcock got the job at the P.I., these eons ago, because there was no one else around; that's how little importance was paid to that position], editors who understand what a theater critic can do. As far as I am concerned, good critics or artistic directors might personally be Dick Cheney and Saddam Hussein rolled into one, not that being great at theater work would necessarily redeem their entire lives. I doubt that it will Carl Rove's. Misha Bernson at the Seattle Times, for the job she has can't really kill off the shows or the theaters: she is meant to keep them on life support. The lack, the aversion, to sharp, conceptually well conceived, self-reflected criticism in Seattle, of course is not confined to Theater.


As I was saying,"there is no good reason for the continues existence of small theaters... " but did not yet say: "Except that nothing would percolate up to the established war horses... who feed off the labor of the forever struggling peons... [ here in Seattle it took nigh 30 years for a Sam Shepard play - the now regionalist chestnut TRUE WEST - to be done at The Rep it happened to be, a fine light production directed by Kurt Beattie, that did not emphasize its dark undercurrent - whereas the smaller theaters, such as "Aha", had been doing Shepard since the early 70s ]... but who do not treat them to the support that major league teams do their minor league franchises.
yes, it is always amateur time. can't help but be. i was in publishing in new york for 25 years. amateurs all around. at the biggies and the smallies. and when it was not: it was dead.
What if the three majors here in Seattle had sponsored just three of those now demised?
The Mariners have let go off an entire championship worth of a starting line-up in the past 15 years, among them, most famously, The Big Machine, Griffey, A-Rod, Cruz..
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Arne also got a little over-confident there with thinking that Teatro Zin Zanni would help pay the bills; instead his Bathhouse took a bath courtesy of some green leaf fanatics in Green Lake; got a bit discombobulated, put a mortgage on his house to keep his dream going. How I detest "green" fanatics: soon there will be a green cop hidden behind each leaf! Grass grows back!
As I was saying: "Arne does a bit of the usual name dropping." Sam Shepard, one strange Cool Hand Luke, perhaps as strange as Howard Hughes about whom he wrote an interesting play: but a first rate author, a true American natural, right out of left field, I published him from 1975 to 1982, and put all his other works back into print. He isn't much done hereabouts. Not anymore anyhow.
When we discussed Arne's doing Handke's great dramatic poem WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, he was reminded of Beckett by something that is a Eurepidean drama of the "aristocracy of the working class" written in a Nietzchean Credence Clearwater Revival spirit. I did the first Kroetz plays, por nada, as an act of generosity for the Berliner Ensemble trained director Carl Weber, acquaintance going back to 1857 [!], but regretted doing so once I got to know the author, but for some the interesting challenges posed finding equivalents in Amurrican for the broken Bavarian patois of the originals. Worked on a lot of the Mueller translation; worked with Herbert Berghod, E.G. Marshall, and did quite a few other things; and published Augusto Boal, Richard Schechner; if the gods had smiled I would have done more. But theater, had it not been for Handke, and psychonalysis would have remained much more of a side-line of mine.

A bit of historical comparative perspective: The most sought after job during the 1020s, one of the great ages of German theater, was that of drama critic! So if you wish to mine good criticism, that is where you go, and some people in the North West do.
As I was saying: "What is needed now is/ are critics who understand what theater in, historically, a multi-media age can still do. [No mention of the expiry of the really important American theater critic Richard Gilman hereabouts that I noticed.] Theater can provide uniquely theatrical mind-and-sense opening experiences in that real and only theatrically real space - quite aside the vaunted supposed wonders of being close to the flesh of actors: If I want to be close to human flesh, I take the bus, or go shopping, etc.
Among editors, who might have done a better job, I include Knute Berger who found no better replacement for the first rate, though then self-serving but in every other respect highly problematic, theater critic Roger Downey with the likes of Longenbaugh and Richard Morin at the Weekly - Steve Wiecking was a better call. I actually proposed a forum on just this subject to Mr. Berger, I never heard back. As far as I am concerned, at least in his dealings with me, courtesy is not his strong suit. You can always say no, a one word syllable takes a second.
I also include David Brewster among those responsible, as I recall his forbidding Downey to review plays at ACT, 'cause Mr. Brewster's wife was a principal there I think that was the reason... i.e. nepotism, provincial narcissism [a category all its own!] Lacking a critic, theater audiences will not have a sense of the importance, if any, of these subsidized enterprises. Get used to vigorous criticism, it happens in the courts all the time. As a matter of fact if you don't defend vigorously, the appeals court may order a retrial or throw out a conviction. Why do people, by and large, pussyfoot so much around here in the open... in closed quarters...

I must say that my experiences in the theater in Seattle have been grim. Travails they have been. Although, on my first return to Berlin,the city of my birth, I studied for six months at the Berliner Ensemble in 1957 , my life in New York, after grad school and far too few adventures, became that of a book editor and translator, with a brief invaluable stint as a literary agent for the best that German publishing and play publishing has to offer; but had it not for translating most and directing some of Peter Handke's plays, theater would not have become more than a side interest, because theater, as something not irrelevant, seemed such an impossible enterprise, even in N.Y.
Generalizations are based on specifics.


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