Chloe Veltman's recent article for the SF Weekly (posted on her blog, here) examines the state of political theatre in the Bay Area and beyond.
With the mass, commercialized media of television, the Internet, talk radio, and movies possessing an exponentially greater ability to reach voters, many people are apt to dismiss the intensely localized, live medium of theater as irrelevant to the democratic process. The fact that most political dramas espouse a liberal point of view and play largely to like-minded audiences only serves to further ghettoize the art form.Theatre is latently political, she concludes, quoting Ed Albee in the process, but few recent works have had the power or impact of the political films we've seen of late, like An Inconvenient Truth and Fahrenheit 9/11. Theatre may have the upper-hand, however, because of its ability to react quickly to current events. So what's the problem?
Most people don't take theater seriously. Even those who regularly attend do so more for kicks than because they're looking for a kick in the ass. Despite theater companies' good intentions, how much of the work produced this year (or, indeed, any year) can hope to make an impact beyond merely showing audience members a good time? All too often, theater fundamentally fails to engage audiences because it plays up to -- rather than challenges -- their expectations.
We love the songs we've written. The problem is that Zeitgeist 2030 takes place twenty-two years from now, and presents a very cynical view of America's future -- a dystopia wherein the president has been in office for thirteen years. It's just not where we want our heads to be during this election year. Our hope for the NERO FIDDLED political shows is that they might inspire our audience to become more politically involved. The bleak vision of Zeitgeist 2030 seems more likely to have the opposite effect. It seems to be saying that the outcome of the 2008 election is irrelevant, because look how bad things are, either way, in 2030. It's the opposite of agitprop: political theatre which inspires complacency and defeat.This decision has prompted accolades and derision from NYC bloggers. Over at the the NYtheatre i, Martin Denton applauded the decision.
Let's greet the election with the optimism and promise that it's supposed to signify: let's embrace the idea that we can select the right people to run our country, people who will move it forward positively and justly. In 2000, a lot of people said they couldn't tell the difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Those people were letting a disaffected postmodernist ennui rule their thinking. We can't afford that ... not in the arts.However, as Nero's Noah Diamond puts it, "dissent struck, under the byline of theatre blogger and critic George Hunka." First Hunka compares the Nero Fiddled decision to the Rachel Corrie problem, then goes on. It's hard to excerpt Hunka without losing much of the sense of his point, but here's a teaser.
No play, or other work of art, is either ahead of or behind its time; it is always precisely of its time; art is not created in time machines. If Diamond and Sisk found it a work they wanted to create now, then now is the time for it (and they must have felt it somehow necessary to do so as artists, or it would not have been conceived in the first place). And, to my mind, the description of the show -- "that the outcome of the 2008 election is irrelevant, because look how bad things are, either way, in 2030" -- is a perfectly valid if unpopular position to take, and one more implicitly radical in a political sense than its opposite (not to mention an entirely justifiable, and urgent, message precisely in an election year).Now, first of all, full disclosure here, I have given money to Nero Fiddled. That said, I can't find any reason to fault them for their decision. It really sounds like they're canceling the show because it doesn't help them accomplish what they want to do in the world right now. Based on Noah & Co.'s past work, I have a hard time believing that they're caving to any unspoken, prevailing downtown mandate about what should or shouldn't be said and done. But, each to his own.
Who IS doing great political theatre work this year? Examples in the comments, please.
Read all of Chloe Veltman's article right here.
Read the announcement and responses to it on Nero Fiddled's blog right here.
Read George Hunka's reaction here. (And be sure to read the comments, they're getting exciting.)