There was a time I would read season announcements voraciously. I was as much a theater geek as a vinyl junkie and got the same rush from tearing the plastic off a new Boogie Down Productions record as I did reading what mix of new and old plays were getting produced. There was a time in my hip hop listening where it stopped… I even felt a little betrayed. Somewhere the sociopolitical work- the NWA, the Public Enemy- that had not only made rap famous in white households like mine but also dangerous, became this homogenized big money swagger music. The 90′s hip hop scene was so wildly diverse: Tribe Called Quest was reaching back to the jazz era, Cypress Hill was riffing on old Who and Zeppelin samples- FM classic rock to talk gangs in LA, the Geto Boys gave portraits of Houston and the nagging paranoia/guilt/attraction of being a villain… And then it became East Coast to West Coast a one stop shop for drivel lyrics and over produced keyboards… Individuality lost in factory mechanization.
There was a time I loved the theater in the same way. I was in school and I loved that it was a poor art form. I loved that in California companies would perform on flatbed trucks for immigrant farm workers, trying to illuminate their story and options. I loved in NY there was guerrilla Shakespeare appearing in parks and Subway trams. I loved the moment I was introduced to Koltes and Fornes, like old friends, I loved that there seemed to be a purity to doing theater. I was naive. I miss being naive.
We just come from the Pulitzer votes and I’m sad at the campaigning involved. The publicists hidden behind plays, random articles coming up pushing directions. I’m sad at seasons that don’t include women or different races. I’m selfish as well and want to see my own experience so I’m most sad that you don’t see the poor. Not in an honest, not talked down to light. I’m now fifteen years in and I’m smarter and I realize my initial interest in theater that it could be done by poor kids, just like early hip hop, was dead wrong. I wish I were mad about it. That I could muster that much passion. But I can’t. I’m sad about it and have at least found other outlets to tell those stories. But as seasons are announced and the publicists come back in with self congratulations it cannot be denied how many worthwhile human experiences are being left behind.
I started this blog after three months teaching in rural Kansas to poor kids at community college. Poor kids who I tried to tell weren’t excluded from the stage. I now feel like I lied to them. Unless they want to mock or sensationalize their experience they probably will be. Unless they forge their wn stages. I’m glad plays like Good Person at the Foundry is going to live on channeling hope and questions simultaneously. The biggest folly of the American Theater will be ignoring how many of those plays are being written right now.