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July 30, 2007

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Owa

Summer Play Festival:
Salon series
New Plays/New Critics

A reaction by Owa
July 31, 2007

New Critics/New Plays
David Cote a member of the New York Drama Critics Circle. Who wrote in his online web blog: “This is totally last minute, but today at 5:30 pm at Theatre Row I'll be moderating a panel called "New Critics/New Plays." I'll be asking the panelists (who are all under 40) what they look for in news plays, musicals or performance pieces. Should be an interesting discussion about aesthetics and methodology by the folks who will rule all (emphasis mine) theater media. “
These are the folk who will presumably define American Theatre for the early 21st century, seven white men and two white women.
The participating youngish critics included: Mark Blankenship, Adam Feldman, Eric Grode, Jeremy McCarter, Helen Shaw and Alexis Soloski moderated by David Cote a member of the New York Drama Critics Circle.
The house was full with what appeared to be many theater lovers and other professionals. Mostly, however, the crowd was gray and older. There was even a disparaging remark made by Mr.Cote admonishing Artistic Directors to find new younger audiences to overcome their fear of presenting challenging new works to the theater going public.
The moderator started his discussion by stating the obvious: the group behind him representing the current state of theater criticism was thirty-something and white. America is all about race and racial inequality. I suppose Mr.Cote thought by stating the obvious, it would disarm criticism regarding the lack of diversity. Yet, I found myself speaking stridently in response to his disclaimer: “I would say so.” There was nervous laughter from him and some in the audience. Having established that said seminar was a white affair, we settled down to the business of pontificat ion.

The first order of business was a discussion of what brought these young people to the craft of theater criticism. Some spoke passionately and some not so passionately, but all convincingly, about their first magical sojourn into the blissful realm of academically writing about theater, its inherent joy, finding in the doing, such a wonderful sense of being and the surprising manner in which they found themselves in a career.

They were bold, present and comfortable with the power of a cruelly expressed wit. A droll sense of humor sharpened by self importance; they clearly thought themselves the best, brightest while working for the admixture of the sober and salacious in the conventional New York (Bourgeois) Media, as represented in such publications as Time Out New York, Village Voice, American theater Magazine and the New York Times among others. They were young, they were smart and they were at the top of their game. In other words, they were white and powerful, the new leaders of the new criticism.
It was at one and the same frightening, disturbing as well as hilarious and absurd to see this assorted squad of self-styled rebels thinking they were actually bringing something fresh and new to the rotten and stale milieu of American theater, honeycombed with the corruption of its market mentatlies and infirmed social malignancy. The whole gambit appeared to me as a charade, a game of shadow boxing, smoke and mirrors with little of value and substance.

This entire grubby event brought to mind the observation of Virgil Thompson: ‘ Democracy is a devise to insure the survival of the unfittest, a plan to reduce the world to uniformity, a synonym for mediocrity.” One brash panelist even went as far to refer to a professor’s appraisal, democracy and theater were discovered in Greece within ten years of each other—commenting—“this could be no coincident.” As if he found holy writ in the musings of some over inflated academe who failed to understand that Greek democracy also included slavery as one of the pillars of its society.

American theater is one of the last bastions of western cultural imperialism. It lulls the populace to a nodding wink at self-indulgent emotional shenanigans, signifying little if anything. The real Theater is the enemy at the gate. The theater’s critics, their publishers, those producers, artistic directors, neurotic actors seeking the warmth from an audience they failed to find in their dysfunctional families, are all co-conspirators in the web woven to deceive.
In the question part of the event, I could only remark that this certain convocation of worms reminded me of an Owellian World. A world where all are equal yet some are more equal than others: “therefore, the pigs get the beer.”

J Cale

Owa, you got issues.

freeman

You've been reading Superfluities, haven't you?

I kid.

freeman

Ok, I feel bad about that comment. Superfluities has, you know, substance.

Look, I wasn't at the event, and I certainly can imagine being frustrated by a crew of young white critics, but to treat anyone working in such a minority medium as a group of Western imperialists seems a bit, um, nuts. To use the academic term.

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