Academic journal article About Performance

Cruel Are the Times for Theatre Matters

Academic journal article About Performance

Cruel Are the Times for Theatre Matters

Article excerpt

Chris Mead, theatre director, scriptwriter and currently working on a doctoral thesis in the Department of History at the University of Sydney, commenced his paper by writing the following on a whiteboard:

This paper docs not require a pocket thesaurus, nor docs this paper assume a deep love of the grit and sweat of theatre, of the grind of the ivory towers, tape recorders or the greed of the scholastic stink."

Okay . . . starting off with crisis. You can't beat a crisis. So there's something wrong with theatre in Sydney, and where else are you going to say it but at a crisis ... I mean at a conference?

Now I wouldn't have a due whether this is a problem for western culture in general, but I do know for sure that there is a crisis with regard to theatre right here, and it's happening all around me. Practitioners are complaining-I've discussed this conference with a few people that I know-that theatre is dead or that it's all boring, or all the same, or bland or crap or stale or derivative or a waste of money. So what's the problem? Too many whingers in the arts missing out on funding? Cultural cringe? Everyone in theatre is jealous of the money and fame of film stars? Displacement by other more intimate media? Agreement often centres on the old chestnut that nothing much these days is actually any good. Acknowledgment of this malaise is taking hold: nothing is good, nothing works. Sure, theatre is mysterious and occasionally it's enchanting, but where are the new forms? The old forms? The shocks, the empathy, the hope the fear the new the terror. Theatre is irrelevant and up itself (thanks Bryan Appleyard). And probably is. It's expensive, it's time consuming, and hell, no-one really goes.

There's more on in Sydney than one can actually go to, yet we complain about how little there is that's on. So what if some person with expertise or not- and who the hell can judge that-gets up in front of a group of people and shows off, tells a story or sews another person to their chest? I'm paid to do this kind of stuff all the time, and I often wonder why the theatre in twentieth century Australia is a privileged space, other than because of its high art legitimacy. A legitimacy and credibility that is rapidly diminishing. In some ways this has been a depressing realisation. Here's a little quote from a good old play:

But cruel are the times, when we are traitors,

And do not know ourselves; when we hold rumour

From what we fear, yet know not what we fear.

But float upon a wild and violent sea

Each way, and move-

Macbeth IV ii

I want to tell you three stories. The first is about some kids, the second is about is writing, and the third is about opposition. My first story:

Okay. I work in youth theatre. 1 have worked in theatre both as a student and a teacher. Last year I directed some kids in a scries of shows, and now some of those kids are performing in another show. And the kids wanted us to go and see their show, and we did. We went along and saw it. It was this [gestures to a copy of Macbeth] Scottish play. .It was on in a warehouse, a huge warehouse down in Darling Harbour. It one all-purpose set full of rocks and rubble and poles jutting out on skewed angles out of kind of little mounds. There were no swords or kilts or moving trees. It had fifty cast members and it rains; not quite on stage, kind of down there, and you couldn't really sec it, but it was impressive and quite unexpected-unless you knew. The lighting rig was an extraordinary piece of workpersonship, awe-inspiring in its quantity. It was challenging; most of it revolved around stuff that was not in the text. In some ways it was innovative: the space, the number of kids, et cetera et cetera, and hell, they gave it a good bash. It was also cold and long; it would have cost a fortune, it was boring, overly earnest, unnecessarily obsessed with the same piece of grim Polish music slowing down the action even more, and sadly jt showed barely a spark of life. …

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