Friday, December 21, 2007

Always Believe in Gold

I have been seeing a lot of teeth-grindingly awful theatre lately. I say this not to elicit sympathy or recommendations for good dentists – though both are welcome, incidentally – but to put to rest the idea that seeing a lot of theatre takes courage. The fact is, even the most painful theatre is probably not as bad as most things causing actual hurty pain. It would be far more courageous if I was to attend each theatrical event wearing pyjamas under my real clothes. Which is another rumour I would like to put to rest.

I’ve also been seeing some excellent and thumbs-up-giving stuff, stuff that virtually begs you make eye contact with the strange players during curtain call and raise your eyebrows with a grin, as if to say “you did it!” Which you would do, if it weren’t for that strange nervous anxiety you’ve felt hovering around the fringes of consciousness since you were in your teens, and which you suspect will prevent you ever achieving a position in local government, a regular spot on radio or television, or being referred to by casual acquaintances as “that guy/girl!”

You must let that nervousness go.

The theatre I’ve been seeing has mostly been part of the Short and Sweet festival at the Arts Centre. As I said (wrote) it’s been a mix of the great and the terrible – in fact, I’ve been surprised just how great and how terrible. Being me, I’ve found the terrible just as educational and productive as the great, even while simultaneously wanting to dig around in one nostril with a pen on the off chance that I’ll sneeze and suddenly find the biro tip obliterating the part of my brain responsible for storing away memories of what I’m seeing. But bad theatre at least puts to the test one’s long-held and infrequently considered beliefs about the medium.

I don’t have a lot of firm beliefs. I believed my primary school friend when he told me that fingernails are made of aggregated hate, amassed and slowly congealed over the years. This would explain both the one and two-finger salute, to indicate the extent of one’s hatred, as well as the older insult of biting one’s thumb at an enemy. As in, my nails are growing so fast because of you, check it out, we need some serious chewing to keep on top of the hatred here. I also believed in Santa, my dormant ability to fly, and a future as some kind of success in some kind of field.

I’m pretty open when it comes to theatre, now. I don’t have strong beliefs as to what works and what doesn’t because I’ve had those beliefs shattered again and again. Even my one remaining demand – that aural windscapes are never a good thing – has been challenged a few times.

But watching every performance in Short and Sweet’s ten-minute play festival so far – I’ll be hitting sixty works by Saturday – a number of thoughts have crossed my mind.

Don’t raise the lights in the auditorium – as if to say “take a look at yourselves! Are you not complicit in these crimes?” – unless you really, really have to. Which you probably don’t.

If someone dies after we’ve known them for less than ten minutes, we may not find it in ourselves to care as much as we probably should. Would that make us a cynic? No. It would make us something else, but I’ll be polite and not use the term here.

Some things can be better said in one minute than ten. If you want to pad out the running time, why not add an epilogue featuring a Romanian ballerina on rollerskates? It might have nothing to do with your piece but hey, rollerskates.

If your idea of drama has – secretly, subliminally – been developed via an unhealthy addiction to daytime TV, know now that you are probably not playing to the audience who will likely turn up at your show. I’m just saying, is all.

Casting is everything. Direction is important, but a good cast won’t just follow your ingenious commands. A good cast will disobey your shitty ones.

Life may be easy if you have great bone structure, but it doesn’t automatically mean you’re a better actor. It might be easier to fake it though, I dunno. I’m looking for positives here.

You may be planning on revolutionising the system with your play, but I once planned on revolutionising the system with my pirate radio station. In practice, this ended up with me just pointing my speakers out of my bedroom window and hoping the sound would carry. There is a lesson here.

You may be an artist, but don’t waste valuable time in a major theatre mercilessly satirising ordinary, non-artistic types. They are probably your audience. Saints and angels appear to bank managers, too.

You may have crafted a beautiful, glistening creation which has moved your audience and will stay with some of them for a long time. I hope so. If not, that’s ok too. You may have taught the rest of us a lesson, and learnt one along the way.

Again, I’ve been surprised by the quality of this year’s showings. If you’re local and you have the chance, there are a few performances left and at least some are worth a look – even requiring it. The others? Well, they’re short.

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