Theatre is Process


Happy New Year, all y’all. I sincerely hope 2008 brings with it a fulfilling creative boon, and your art is seen by as many people as possible. Oh, and that you make some money at it, too. Not that that’s what it’s about, but it would be nice, wouldn’t it? Just a few more coppers in the coffer, to continue to make art? Not a lot, just enough, is what we in the theatre hope for, and it’s amazing to me that a small profit is considered a great success in indie theatre, fie, breaking even is considered to be a success. Truly, this is a labour of love.

Well, that’s not good enough for me. I want to make a living at it. I don’t need a Lear jet or a pet tiger or anything like that, I just want to afford to do nothing for a job but creating theatre, and not just for a little while in a humble flat eating KD, but for a career alongside other artists with similar aspirations. Last year brought with it a revelation for me about the type of people who choose to make art, and I’d like to share it.

Artists in the dramatics break down into two distinct categories. There are those who are process-oriented and those who are end-result-oriented. Process-oriented artists love all the work that goes into creation; the rehearsals, the re-writes, the mis-steps. They feel that they can only figure a thing out by getting it wrong, by falling on their face. A lot. For this artist it’s never really done even when it’s done, because it could have been better, there’s always some clearer way of telling their truth. They’re hardly ever satisfied. End-result-oriented artists want to get the work in the box and move on to the next. They tend to be impatient with the rehearsal process and want to cut right to the meat of the thing, get it done, and step back to examine it, learning from the finished product.

I do not claim one of these personality types to be superior to the other, but I’ve realized that it is the former that I prefer to work with. I find the exploration of the idea more interesting than the idea itself, the journey more satisfying than the destination, if you will. As a gross generalization I would say that you would find PO artists gravitating to theatre, while film and television tends to attract the ERO artist. The overlap is huge of course, due to the similarities between these media, with residents of both camps working within each discipline (especially actors). I just find them a little easier to identify now. I saw Joaquin Phoenix on Conan, by way of example, promoting Walk the Line. Conan had asked him, with no small measure of incredulity, whether or not the rumour that Phoenix refused to watch his own movies was true. It was, actually, he admitted to an obviously disbelieving host and studio audience, whose reaction suggested that this indicated a certain egoism or perhaps a false modesty. I, however, didn’t see that at all, I saw an actor who loves acting, present tense, and to watch his work set in stone with all his decisions finalized and unchangeable must be anathema to him. I would like to work with Joaquin Phoenix.

Film and sculpture and painting and prose all have a clear end product. These art forms attract ERO artists, and the POs find themselves in disciplines like dance and theatre. Process-oriented artists find fulfillment in theatre for one simple reason: theatre is process. It’s never really done, is it? Even when rehearsals are finished and the curtain rises on opening night there’s still an entire run ahead of you, offering many more chances to nail that one little moment you wish was nailed the night before (probably only to discover that it won’t work the next night, and the moment was lost forever into the abyss of the what-if and the if-only). Even when the run is over and the closing curtain falls it’s not really “finished”, because there is no physical evidence of the experience to study, it now exists only in the commutative memory of its audience and participants. (Filmed theatre simply does not count, as the nature of the art form dissolves when it is not immediate. End of discussion.) After the run there is but a script, and most playwrights are probably never 100% happy with that either. We were unable to attain performance rights to Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime last year because he’s working on a new draft, and it premiered 35 years ago. Sam’s as PO as they get. I wonder if he likes watching his films?

So now we move into another year of trying to find new buyers for our art, hopefully using what we’ve learned so far to find new ways of financing our goals. I intend to use The Next Stage this year to foster that, not just for my company but for theatre here in general. That is, in a nutshell, where I think the great opportunity of the theatre blogosphere resides: in sharing our process and our experience with one another, for the good of the art form and for the community. I’m going to up the ante on The Next Stage this year and re-tool it a bit as a marketing opportunity not just for LSP, but for Vancouver independent theatre et al, a go-to site for an insider’s perspective on our work. Fun and informative is what we’re going for here, and I’ll be asking for your help to spread the word, and to kindly share your process with us. This conversation needs to get going.

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