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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Capital T

A Facebook quote recently reminded me of a Stella Adler quote:

"The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation."

Hmm. What a novel idea. Right? Truth. We can see something fictitious and still believe it. We can see something outlandish and still believe it. But if we see something false, it's dead to us. What makes it false?

This brings me to two thoughts about Truth that are probably dissertations in themselves -- in theatre and culturally.

Say we see an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Outlandish characters, larger than life personalities, unrealistic situations and riddles (for the most part), but we still go along with it, because we see Truth in Alice (and, ultimately, Dodgson/Carroll). We can see ourselves vicariously making critical choices throughout the performance. In a more realistic production, O'Neill or Letts for example, if there's a personality or circumstance we don't quite get, i.e. "why would anyone keep dating her," we don't have to identify with the character as much as we have to find a clue as to why they are acting this way. There must be evidence on stage -- even for a fleeting moment. It doesn't have to be said, it can be shown. It can be a bit of compassion or a slice of kleptomania, but it has to be justified. We are interesting Humans in that we need this, no?

False theatre can happen whenever character motivations are poorly portrayed -- or even overlooked. And this can be the fault of the the playwright, the director, the actor... but it will never be the fault of the audience.

My second thought on "Truth" asks a much larger question culturally. Ms. Adler's quote reminds us of the Greeks who traveled thousands of miles to see "truth about life and social situation." Here, Deus ex Machina and the Cheshire Cat aside, we see that theatre is the cultural tell-all; that drawing parallels allows us to say make statements about our own lives.

So, where does America go for truth?

I'm not trying to be a FOX, CNN, CNBC, Daily Show commercial, though you (and I) will notice the first things that came to my mind to write were news stations. Theatre is a slice of life and a form of entertainment, and is still drawing parallels as well as lines in the sand, but will it ever fully reclaim the place of Truth? Has it evolved? Has it de-evolved? Frequently, in countries other than our own, theatre is still the best way to inform people of disease, political action, and more! Does some of this have to do with literacy and language barriers? Sometimes, but never always. Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed focuses on the daily lives of citizens. Through Forum Theatre they create ideas that demonstrate the truth so that the audience can do what they wish with the information. What empowerment!

The Truth is under so much gloss today. Most of us know we're being sold to. Even comedy has evolved to such a detached level that we are making Rebecca Black #1 on iTunes. You have to be considered a conspiracy theorist (WikiLeaks included) before you can make a point about questioning the government (I bet there's a great piece of theatre in that thought -- anyone wanna work on it with me?). However, I will say, that it is becoming increasingly hard to consider a conspiracy theorist false these days.

That was a bit of a wild tangent, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. Is theatre evolving or de-evolving from its truth telling roots?

1 comment:

  1. Truth in art, in theatre in particular, is a tricky thing. I think another big part of it is suspension of disbelief. If a situation is believable, we'll go along with the story, but as you say as soon as I start to think "why would anyone date her" I'm out of it, the spell is broken, people are just up on stage reciting lines. And I think it's gotten harder, because as far as suspension of disbelief goes, cinema does it with a lot less effort. Actually that's not true, because doing cinema well is super hard, but from a technical standpoint if a series of images are correctly built into a montage we have a much easier time accepting it. And as a result, the pressure on theatre to be truthful is that much greater, because if I'm not getting a nice satisfying dose of truth why didn't I see a movie instead? Audiences want theatre today to be really truly moving, and if it's not, they aren't likely to come back. So in that sense, I think theatre is evolving as we find new ways as artists to compete with Youtube, because the truth is all we've got to get them to come back.