List-serve imbroglio

This is a post to the list serve for Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Things have been getting heated around the whole “Hillary vs. Obama” thing, with some McCain and Ron Paul thrown in around the edges. Some are now calling for a new list-serve “just for political discussions”. It prompted this from me:

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What’s a theatre artist?

I think that’s the foundational question beneath the calls to take our political (or sociological, or critical) discussions to another list-serve “just for us”. But part of what we (those of us participating in the so-called “off-topic” discussions) are doing is making the emphatic statement that these topics are essential to us, as artists and as people. I might ask (as Jill Ivey does in her excellent article) why not create another “theatre announcement” only list serve, just for people who want nothing more than a kind of “on-line classified ads for theatre” list-serve?

The energy, passion and sometimes outright rudeness of the discussion is not a mark against the discussion, but a commentary on specific people in our community. What makes us uncomfortable is that we have to see ourselves, and sometimes we don’t like what we see. Further, I think the energy of this discussion is a testimony to the fervent need many of us have felt to have discussions like this with each other, as theatre artists. I feel as though we are saying, we are a part of something larger than classified ads and it feels great to have the chance to give voice to it. That some of the voices are odious is nothing more than an accurate reflection of those individuals, and also of our tendency to celebrate the culture of controversy we live in, to borrow Shanley’s phrase. We are losing the ability to converse vigorously but graciously, a combination which used to be the hallmark of good civic engagement.

Working out this morning, I was watching the appalling video of several teenage girls beating another one in a suburban basement. We are infatuated with violence – it is seeping into our children’s conduct and into our political discourse. It won’t stop until each of us gets it, on visceral, personal level, that every time we act violently to another person in word or deed, electronically or actually, we are feeding the beast, we are part of the problem, we are beating that teenage girl too. When I write here, I think about all my friends who will read my words. And I am aware that it matters to me what they think of me. I love them. And to lose their regard of me would be deeply painful. So no matter how worked up I get, I have learned to be careful. It has taken me a while, but I seldom send something into cyberspace that I regret later anymore, because I know I am not alone and that these words are having an effect on people that matter to me.

But anyway – this is a list-serve for theatre artists, right? So what’s a theatre artist? And what should we be discussing? Only casting calls, opening nights, free tickets and queries about props? Is that the limit of our public discourse? Have we nothing else to say to each other?

I believe that many of our best plays – you know, those things we produce – I believe that those plays are made from discussions like these, and the more politically aware and involved we are, the more willing we are to take a stand and say, “this is what I believe, this is what matters to me”, the better we will be as artists. And the more we censor ourselves into a little box with plastic martini glasses and two fer one deals, the poorer we become aesthetically.

So at the risk of being rude, let me say this: no one put a gun to your head and said be a part of this list-serve. There is something novel going on in Philly. Artists with civic consciences are speaking out. And I say, God bless us, every one. Don’t you dare monitor this discussion for “appropriate content”, and don’t marginalize those of us who want to have meaningful, passionate discussions about our country, our city, our art, the way we live. All of it is about theatre – all of it. Theatre is bigger and messier than plastic martini glasses. It’s about the savage terrain of the human heart, the perversity of the human psyche. And it’s all on display right here. Quite a show, don’t you think? No? Is the discussion driving you crazy? Then get away from your computer and take a walk, go to a yoga class, see a friend. And learn to love your delete button. List-Serve Imbroglio Wednesday, April 9, 2008