Thursday, June 19, 2014

Support or enjoy? (with a little Fringe thrown in)

Colin's post about supporting theater was fun for me because it took me back to the waning days of the theater blogosphere -- or "theatrosphere," as Parabasis' Isaac Butler used to call it, surprising us all with his coinage of a word more hideous than "blogosphere." (Sorry Isaac, but I feel like we've got some distance from those heady days and I can be frank about such things.)
A first attempt at a viable Fringe schedule.

Getting back to the point, Isaac hashed this out in 2009 and had a mostly supportive (sorry) comment thread below it. Even those who took issue, such as playwright August Schulenburg in his blog for Flux Theatre, did so to describe the dissenting viewpoints as "one of the existential crises facing the theatre today." Then Isaac chimed in, further explaining himself and saying they don't really disagree that much. That was pretty much how it used to go -- lots of thoughtfulness and interest in respectful dialogue. That is, unless race, gender or sexuality got thrown in a little too casually and all hell broke loose.

I must not have been terribly moved by the discussion back then; in 2009 I posted on Frank's Wild Lunch about watching Gossip play through a power outage at Amoeba Records and seeing a newly fame-kissed Chris Colfer at a sushi restaurant down the street from my apartment. I'm not all that worked up about it now, either, but I can relate to Colin's thoughts. That's not because I'm offended by people asking me to support them (I like to think I'm pretty supportive in general), or because I want to discuss theater's existential crises. It's because I've been going to small theater in L.A. for over 10 years now and I just can't do it all.

One point Isaac made back in 2009, in contrast to Colin's suggestion of a "victim mentality," is that there's an artistic entitlement in appealing to an audience member's sense of obligation to an artist, the work, the organization or the art form by casting attendance as "support." Whether or not that's intentional, it works on me so hard it can be overwhelming. If I hear about a show involving a friend or acquaintance, my knee-jerk response is "I should probably see that." I've tied myself in scheduling knots and gotten even more tied up in crosstown traffic trying to see everything. I'm constantly having to remind myself that no one's really making me feel obligated other than myself.

So these days I compare the value of my attending any event with the impact on my time and my schedule. Sometimes that has to do with interest in the show, or how well I can anticipate how satisfied (or how miserable) I'm going to be. It can also be about maintaining a relationship with an artist or organization, or merely about remaining an engaged theater artist. Of course this is all in the event that I'm not swamped or too preoccupied to realize it's already closing weekend and I let the dates get away from me. To me this isn't about victim mentalities or existential crises. It's about time management. Being supportive will always be just one of several factors determining my attendance.

All that said, I saw three Fringe productions in one day during preview weekend just for kicks. I knew no one involved and felt no obligation to support anything other than the Hollywood Fringe itself. I was pretty much miserable in all three shows and had to check myself again about making thoughtful choices about the shows I see. There is far too much work in the Fringe for me to choose blindly based on schedule or interest or marketing. I actually feel like the best use of my time in this festival is to see shows involving theater folk I'm even a little acquainted with. That way, in the event that I don't enjoy the show, at least I've been supportive.

P.S. - I co-wrote and am producing The Last Temptation of Paula Deen for the festival; please support it, me, the theater, and civilization with your attendance. Or come because you think it will be fun. Or don't come. See another show. Have a nice meal somewhere. Stay home. Hang out with your kids. Enjoy your life.

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