Prompted in part by a glum viewing of the Short & Sweet website, our favourite New York tragedian George Hunka lets rip on the commodification of theatre as mere "entertainment", which he calls "the new Fascism".
To say that every theatrical production must have an element of "fun" or spass, and then to drag Shakespeare and Brecht and Beckett and Bernhard and others down to our own professional purposes, in support of our own need to be distracted (Attention Deficit Disorder our psychic Black Plague: the iPodization of experience), is to befoul their work, disavow their pain. To take part in the entertainment culture. To paste over the tragic wound that the Art of Theatre can best present, to try to stop the gore with a designer Band-Aid ("Helps make healing fun!"), through which blood and pus continue to seep regardless.
Designer Lucas Krech points out that, nevertheless, play is an essential part of theatre, and that it needn't be synonymous - can in fact be resistant to - crass commercialisation.
George, it seems, is struggling against mindless commercial entertainment. The kind of fluff that does nothing more than causes small green rectangular pieces of paper to change hands quickly. But there is another kind of fun, a powerful and transformative type of play that could get lost were one to simply disregard the whole and focus only on the void. That fun is the kind that acts in counterpoint to tragedy and suffering. A kind of divine play. This is the morbid humor of the gatekeeper in MacBeth or the pathetic antics of Vladamir and Estragon. This kind of desperate humor is necessary in the midst of a world filled with so much suffering.
I agree with Lucas. The tragic and the comic can be equally profound, and they are equally cheapened by the mass culture anaesthetisations that George identifies here. Trevor Griffiths' brilliant play Comedians, for example, has a good look at these distinctions.
Meanwhile, speaking of grim things, Sydney actor William Zappa has started a blog, Acting for the Planet, which aims to be a locus for discussion among performing arts types about climate change. He kicks off with a serious question about the connections between the advertising industry - where most actors earn their bread and butter - consumerism and climate change. Check it out.