Thursday, August 25, 2011
Good news for the theatre? Paula Vogel steps down at Yale (sort of)
But now the New York Times has reported that Vogel will be stepping down from her post at Yale - or rather just backing off its administrative responsibilities - the better to concentrate on upcoming projects. Which is one of those things that make me go, "Hmmmm." On the one hand, I feel any diminishment in Vogel's status is good news for those of us who love the theatre; on the other hand, she'll now have more time to write, and she'll still be "mentoring writers" - two things that we don't want her to do.
So I'm on the fence as to the positive salience of this development. There other signs, however, that "Vogelism" may be fading in its influence. Recently there have been a few "green shoots" of critical thought about the style in the blogosphere - the last place you'd expect them, frankly, because theatre blogs are generally tilted toward the mindsets of playwriting grad students and other Vogelites. But even some of these folks are beginning to perceive that - well, their plays just aren't making much of an impact, and seem to be getting more and more alike in terms of style. Their posts are touchingly earnest, in that mechanical, millennial kind of way - as well as a bit pathetic; they grope about wonkishly in the formal vocabulary of the academy for some precise technical explanation for why things seem to be going wrong. It doesn't occur to them, of course, that they're simply products themselves, on a kind of conveyor belt engineered by the academy, and that Mama Vogel has a whole new crop of them to push onto the stage every season.
A few years ago, I coined the term "the academic-theatrical complex" to describe this state of affairs. I remember back then that local "critic" Bill Marx emailed me in a huff to demand what, exactly, I meant by such a term. Marx, of course, works as a lecturer at Boston University, so I suppose his intellectual myopia was understandable. But by now isn't it obvious what I meant? We now have a house style of new play development, and it's largely dominated by a single figure sitting in the center of a web of professional relationships. And that style is essentially a portrait of a single community (or class, in both senses of the word), at a certain stage of life (the college years) - and clearly it serves the political interests of a certain industry: the academy. As a critic there's very little I can do about any of this - the H.M.S. Vogel and her fleet have sailed on despite my warnings; but at least I can report my satisfaction whenever I see a possible crack in the lead battleship's armor.