Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Will LeBow has his say

To all those who have been writing in - Will LeBow's open letter on the A.R.T. can be found here, at "www.LeBowTheatreEssay.blogspot.com." In other developments, LeBow lays into Globe reporter Geoff Edgers here, for distorting his message as "the stodgy old guard resisting the new exciting innovative regime." LeBow's quite right about the Edgers article - it does distort his letter - although frankly, that distortion merely reflects the attitude that suffuses the Globe in general, doesn't it.

Money quotes from LeBow's letter:

"Shakespeare serves the The Donkey Show as an effective marketing tool, but the process is not adaptation. It is not reinvention. It is, simply and precisely, exploitation. The resulting shows were popular, fun, and in one case visually stunning, but they contained none of the power, intellect, and beauty of Shakespeare. They didn’t need to. That’s not how they seek to impact the audience.

How did academia respond? Well, in a related panel discussion, a leading Harvard Shakespearean scholar, Marjorie Garber, apparently didn’t miss the text at all. Happily confessing that she “shook her booty at The Donkey Show”," she affirmed that "It's still Shakespeare," and “it will cause people to pick up and read Midsummer Night’s Dream.” To that last quote I say, “Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.” (That’s Shakespeare for “ain’t gonna happen, IMO”) . . .

What’s happening at a.r.t. is not “expanding the limits of theater.” It is diminishing it into a populist form. These shows seek to impact the audience the way a drug like cocaine does. By introducing elements of sex, drugs, booze, hot dynamic music, and the power rush of the crowd, and also by blurring the line between performer and audience, you can create an anodyne state in the theatre - pain-controlled, and intellectually narcotized, with, ideally, a euphoric rush or two or three. And it’s an environment where people will be more inclined to spend at the bar.

What has also happened simultaneously at a.r.t. is an almost complete replacement of the artistic and production staff and acting company. So, references to “a new direction for the company” or “how the ART thinks or feels about an issue”, are meaningless. That company no longer exists. That company WAS its people, giving heart and soul to Robert Brustein’s vision. That company has been replaced with a corporate model, complete with the power centric CEO (the Artistic Director being so officially named). The company’s new Financial Officer was formerly at Clear Channel, two words that send a chill up the spine of Equity Actors everywhere . .

What’s at stake right now is the direction of theatre in America, the function of the actor in the theatre, and the model of the regional theatre company moving forward. In my mind the stakes have never been higher. I believe we need to focus on and prioritize the reasons for doing theatre in the non-profit venue. My hope is for money and power to lose the top spot on the list, to a theatre of ideas, insight, and great heart."

I couldn't have said it better myself. I mean doesn't LeBow just nail it, from Marjorie Garber's booty to Clear Channel? But as for Harvard flushing Paulus and returning to some level of intellectual integrity - don't count on it as long as the money is rolling in. I still think our only hope may be to find a way to go after the nonprofit status of the A.R.T. legally, but that's probably just a pipe dream!