Le Mort de Theatre - again ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Le Mort de Theatre - again

According to Guy Rundle, theatre isn't just dying, it's dead. In a piece in today's Crikey in relation to e-books, he claims in an aside that radio and movies killed theatre, leaving "existing theatre as a mix of largely subsidised, state and philanthropic funded events, non-commercial avant-gardes and occasional large spectacles".

This got me thinking, mostly because I don't see a lot of signs of rigor mortis: although maybe I'm seeing theatre through less jaundiced glasses than Rundle. What was theatre before the invention of the mass market? Surely it too was a mixture of the popular vulgate (music hall, melodrama, the huge spectacles of Victorian times), "largely subsidised, state and philanthropic funded events" like the court theatres (Shakespeare and Moliere) and avant garde or "non-commercial" ventures such as Artaud's theatre or the communal mystery plays. Which is to say, was it so different to what it is now? Does this mean it was always dead? Or is it always, despite everything, stubbornly, recalcitrantly alive?

The difference from the 19th century is the mass market, made possible by the invention of reproducible art in film, photography and now digitisation. Theatre was never going to be a mass market phenomenon, aside from the franchise model of a Cameron Mackintosh or Cirque du Soleil: it's at its best in intimate spaces. And intimate spaces co-exist quite happily alongside the mass market, because people seek different things from both of them. As with the e-book argument, people can walk and chew gum at the same time: the rise of one doesn't mean the end of the other.

Anyway, just wanted to wave at all you corpses out there...


epistemysics said...

When did the talkies become popular? 1930 sometime? That's almost 80 years that theatre's been dead! WHY WAS I NOT INFORMED?!

I can't believe I've been shelling out hard earned money for zombie-theatre...

What would be interesting to see, though, are some theatre stats over the years, such as gross ticket sales, etc, to see what it was actually like 80 years ago (ie, was it a mixutre like you have suggested). Do these stats exist or were they buried in the coffin with theatre?

Anonymous said...

The research hub at http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/theatre

gives some links to the Australian Bureau of Statistics with a wealth of info on issues related to epistemysics'

From what I can gather it would seem that if Rundle is on the money then Australia is a land of necrophiles.


Paul Martin said...

They've been saying the same about cinema for yonks. And it's going nowhere fast.

Geoffrey said...

Ironic to say the least! At least Mr Rundle was a coffin-bearer with Godzone. Now there was a corpse if ever I saw one! Or half of one.

London Theatre Guru said...

This is funny because I was just ready a blog that says theatre is alive and well and had a bumper year.

I guess if you like massive big budget produtions things are great.


Alison Croggon said...

Hi fellow zombies! Yes, maybe Godzone has something to do with Rundle's disaffection, though taking the MTC as a median indication of our cultural health is *cough* somewhat myopic.

Depends where you are, maybe, Greg. Here if you like small exquisitely formed theatre gems, you're probably in the right place.

Paul K said...

What a ridiculously glib and generalised argument. Not only is theatre dead, so is painting and sheet music.


Anonymous said...

Zombie Theatre.


(The verification of this entry was brought to you by the word Vocaliv. Vocaliv: Helping You Live Out Loud Since 2010)

Anonymous said...

Theatre has been boring and uninteresting since the day dot. It belongs to pre-20th century - its nothing - i can't believe that you can bang on like this - presumably your life might appear pointless - film has slipped into pointlessness and theatre is . . . who cares? Seriously, I can't believe you think this is still the age of writing - especially theatre. It is clearly over.
Stephen Cummings

Alison Croggon said...

Uh, Stephen, is there a case of projection going on here? My life is certainly pointless, but then, it's no more pointless than anyone else who lives in this skin of air on this tiny ball of rock. So?

Theatre might be pointless, boring and uninteresting to you. I can't help wondering what theatre, precisely, that you're talking about (theatre is a broad church), and what it is that in your view has so much more point, but it is only an idle interest. It's probably pointless too.

(The age of writing is over? Really? Been on the internet lately?)

Anonymous said...

Well I think my comment is a good example of spending too much time on the internet, especially before one goes to sleep. I stand corrected. I was being childishly provocative.

Alison Croggon said...

In cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream...

mik frawley said...

Perhaps (capital 'T') Theatre is staggering along screaming vociferously for "BRAINS!", but there are plenty of us still out there wielding chainsaws and shotguns.

I believe that the "Theatre is Dead" proclaimers are from similar camps to the critics for whom Naturalism is the one true form...
Their denouncements are a gasp for life in a shallow little pool of definition which is drying up; ignoring the fact that new springs are gushing forth elsewhere, if they'd only evolve enough to find the next pond.

What I will concede is dead - or at the very least in need of Euthanasia - is the funding and business structures that have allowed certain stagnating and dwindling ponds to artificially circulate the same reeking water for years.

Is theatre dead? No, but some of it should be allowed to die with dignity.

Erika Sye said...

Theater is something that will never completely die. There will always be those who prefer the theater over the radio or the TV. The theater has life, breath and a heart beat. In the theater for a few acts an entire audience of people become one. For a few hour the audience is let into a world that only they will see. No show is exactly alike, something will differ in everyone. And for this reason there will always be audiences for the stage. While I will contest that theater may have lost a few patrons, but in this economy so have all leisurely activities. But theater is timeless, it will survive because it is more than a leisurely activity; it is a mesmerizing experience.

Jim McDonald said...

Having just come back from Over There, I saw a small production off-off Broadway in which the tiny theatre was crammed with extra seats for The Production Company's "Meg's New Friends" and a young audience. An almost full house of mixed age for Brooklyn's St Ann's Warehouse production of "Brief Encounters" and a full house for "Our Town" in Greenwich Village, again a mixed age audience. Full houses in London for "Othello", Mother Courage", Endgame", the 3rd or 4th year of "Avenue Q", "The Priory", "Inherit the Wind"and almost full for "Speaking in Tongues". A sell-out in an Amsterdam production in Dutch of "The Cherry Orchard". And there's supposed to be a recession in those countries!

I look at the seasons for MTC, STC and QTC and see a mix of Australian, American and British plays. This is as it should be in my view. La Boite, Griffin, Belvoir, etc are hothouses of Australian theatre and La Boite, which itself had its funds slashed last year, has actively developed an independents support program, which I hope does no damage to the work done at the Metro in Brisbane supporting new theatre.

What is lacking in Australia is a healthy group of independent professional companies with the legs of La Mama in Melbourne that can afford to have seasons of plays in the smaller, intimate venues and which pay cast and crew full rates. There are independents of course, but no-one in the independents can make an unsubsidised living from theatre. And subsidies outside the bigger companies are hard to come by. Not hard to see when producing a four-hander with minimal backstage and technical hands will cost at least $45-50,000 to mount on base Equity rates.

Then there is the thriving community theatre sector.

Theatre is not dead but needs a good dose of vitamins. But, where support fully falls down is the lack of an arts policy that encourages and supports the growth of professional theatre in the regions. When you read the arts policies of all the political parties, they can only see regional performance in terms of funding metropolitan companies to tour, and minuscule seed money for community theatre productions. And that is to the detriment of the development of theatre outside the big cities.

mik frawley said...

couldn't agree more with Jim's last two paragraphs; as someone on the frontlines of a regional theatre, our mainstages are largely invisible and irrelevant to the more than 30% of Australians who live outside of our capital cities.
In my community we have a wealth of incredibly talented actors and creatives; 4 or more non-professional companies who produce quality work and do not deserve the often perjorative 'amateur' and 'community' tags. The lack of opportunity for these most passionate people means tha, in order to pursue theatre as more than a passing interest, they must migrate to the cities, eroding the talent at the heart of our community.

As Manager of the local performing arts centre I'm struggling to try and find funding to support staging local productions, but I feel like I'm shouting into a forest with my enquiries.
In 2011 I've diverted a portion of my programming budget to local productions, but this is adequate to support only the barest of production costs and still noone will be paid.

(post-script: It's interesting to note that my verification word was 'ranti' - somewhat apt, perhaps...)

Alison Croggon said...

I'm one of those who think the cultural neglect of regional Australia is scandalous. (I realise there are other neglcts, as well). The most scandalous part is how little it would cost to create so much community benefit. Rant away.