I's back...

I've been a bad blogger. Bad.

I come back in short form today with many thoughts coming down the pike.

My absence for the past few days (okay, ten) has been due to the fact that I needed to complete writing my book that will soon be published by Arcadia Publishing called Milwaukee's Live Theater. I had to finish the thing or face the wrath of my publisher. Actually, they are very nice publishers and I suspect there would not have been torture or anything if I hadn't finished the book on time, but I think I would have felt like I had let my dad down or something and that would have just sucked.

In any event, I'm posting something quick today because I just got an e-mail from that pot stirrer Rex Winsome about an article that appeared in The Stranger called Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves, and it had fresh significance for me after finishing a book about 150 years of theater history in Milwaukee.

The article makes the assertion that theater is broken right now. Terribly, terribly broken.

Well, I'm ready to tell you all one shocking thing that I can firmly assert after spending lots of time in archives, reading notes from producers from 50-75 years ago setting up institutions or seat-of-your-pants upstart theatrical brigades, and discerning the state of theater in Milwaukee and the nation over the past 150 years (the scope of my research). Ready? Here's the big shocker:


It's time to fess up folks. Theaters have always struggled. There was a German theater movement in Milwaukee that thrived for over 75 years but faded away because audiences no longer felt the need for German theater. Same with a Yiddish theater scene. Also, a lady named Laura Sherry did Shakespeare, Pirandello and some whacked out experimental shit from 1899 to 1940 in Milwaukee and thrived until she no linger had the energy to thrive (thanks to Konrad and John for helping me see this important moment in theater history). All of these theatrical discussions share one common link: it was never easy for the people involved in the producing of the art to figure out what worked best to keep the art interesting for regular Joes and Janes. In other words, there's never been a perfect solution to selling a ticket.

Blame it on the internet and television now. Years ago they blamed it on those new fangled automobiles and moving picture shows with sound. There's always going to be an excuse, there's always going to be an obstacle.

Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves is primarily a humor piece. It is quick, funny and doesn't offer any suggestions that are all that radically different from what all theaters are trying right now (and when I say all, I mean all, no whatever what size). I applaud Brendan Wiley for his wit.

There is one really important thought that popped out at me in those ten points, however. The author suggests to "Treat your plays like parties and your audience like guests."

This is smart. Really smart.

Cover your ears if you're not used to curse words, because I'm going to use a well placed swear word right now. I also believe that a case could be made for the theater history of Milwaukee or any other city to be defined as theaters saying, "Yes, theater going public and anyone with a dollar in your pocket, I will lay down for you so that you can fuck me wherever you want."

Pardon my potty mouth, but there has been a tendency to cave in even the most well intentioned theatrical situation. The caving comes from not treating the art like the greatest thing in the world. The caving comes from thinking of plays as widgets.

Plays aren't widgets. Plays are unique. Each one is unique. And they don't need to be new (though I'm a huge fan of the new ones). If you want to do a production of Ibsen's ROSMERSHOLM, by all means, do it. But treat it like it's a party. And as my mother has always said, make sure you have too much of everything. Excess doesn't need to come in the form of stuff. It just needs to come in the form of attitude and intention. If you treat it like a party, all of a sudden it is a party.

What theater needs more than anything right now is excited leaders. Leaders who like producing plays. I tend to believe that you don't throw out things that are broken and start from scratch. Instead I believe that you use what you can from the past, and patch together the rest with new parts.

Party on playgoers. It's as simple as that.