Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What’s “shocking” in theatre?

Albee’s Zoo Story.  Or Sylvia, or The Goat.  Or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for that matter.  Profanity certainly isn’t shocking anymore; more appalling in excess.  Nudity always has some appeal but it doesn’t really “shock” in this day and age.  And of course there are a handful of truly taboo subjects… and a few dozen flimsy, politically incorrect, expressions that substitute for the truly taboo.

Our current production could be (let’s face, most likely someone will be) called shocking.  In a recent interview, Albee became insulted when the reporter suggested that he was intentionally shocking in his work.  Albee replied that he “put it in there because that’s what was happening.”  It was the logical extension, expression of the character's given circumstance, psychologically. 

In writing A Beautiful Home for the Incurable, a play about an agoraphobic man, I became concerned that as a comedy it would either be considered offensive or un-funny.  I spoke with a friend who suffered from agoraphobia, and she said that if I just wrote the truth it wouldn’t be offensive, but it would be funny.  There wasn't any humor in the experience of mental illness, but its expression was often quite funny. That’s how I feel about the idea of shocking.  As a tool for engaging the audience, shock tactics are trash, manipulation of the worst kind.  The truth can be plenty shocking on its own.  In The Disappearance of Mary Rosemary the shocking elements are a natural extension of the characters; in my mind, they are the only outcome, the only choice that made logical sense.  Perhaps people would be less shocked if I had fully explored things in a more literary fashion, from a distance, but that would also lack truth.  One doesn’t have to “explore” a glass of water being knocked over; it simply happens.  And the glass does get knocked over.

UPDATE 10/10/13:  I predicted that this production would be called shocking, but it wasn't until it happened that I recognized what polite "finger-pointing" looks like in this  day and sensibility.  People, especially those that want to considered educated and liberal, don't like to appear "shocked" by anything that might reveal them to be narrow minded.  Instead, they devise euphemisms to convey their dismay, while portraying themselves as "unshocked."  A reviewer, after being wholly distracted by the fact that the play wasn't a Woman in Black clone (a play they felt we produced exceedingly well in 2009), remarked that the ending was "VC Andrews" but not in a good way.  Which is the polite way of saying it shocked her sensibilities, but she didn't want to admit it.  The problem-- besides wanting the play to be something it wasn't designed to be-- is that being shocked means being thoughtless, unreflective, taking one's own preconceptions and values as universal without examining what the text may be conveying.  The problem with "shocked" is that it is entirely self-satisfied.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

My Director's Notes Go Video

The Disappearance of Mary Rosemary has opened with a bang!  For the past couple of shows I've wanted to do my "Director's Notes" in the program as a video-- accessible by QR Code in the program.  Previously, the last weeks of rehearsals/load-in/tech have been so hectic that I haven't been able to even attempt video notes, but this show I finally did it.  I don't know whether it will truly prompt people to use their phones to see/hear my notes; we'll see.

For those without smart phones, here it is:


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