Last year I covered a much-hyped show that I was most unimpressed with. An Oak Tree was mind-numbing gimmickry: one actor who knows the script, and another--who has never read or seen the show--doing a cold reading off a clipboard. I'd love to hear what James Urbaniak got out of his personal experience performing the play at random, but as a casual observer, all I could think was that I could do that. I've performed, and I don't think I'm a terrible actor, but trust me: if I think I can do something, you aren't doing a very good job.
While browsing Culturebot (yes, Guitar Hero is a fantastic game), I read hype about an upcoming show at PS122 in the form of twin shows called Doubletalk and Five in the Morning. The picturesque charm described in the synopsis doesn't sound all that bad, but have you noticed how many theater companies are relying on intrigue to get people to the theaters lately? Even fantastic multimedia shows that I loved, like HERE's Stanley (2006) or 3LD, which is mounting the upcoming Losing Something, can't keep from hyping the gen-re-defining technologies going into the performance, as if that's the reason to see a show. When I had the pleasure to speak with Mark Russell on an episode of Theater Talk, I spoke honestly that I thought the appeal of his Under The Radar Festival at The Public would be the lure of seeing an expertly curated open-house of out-of-city performers, bringing new (but professionally culled) works to the stage. I wasn't disillusioned at the festival either: I saw more of Canadian Daniel MacIvor's narrative-bending work and puppetry that seemed a natural evolution of the past. So yes, we all want to see something new, but it has to be more than new -- and this should go without saying -- it has to be good, too.
Yes, But Is It Theater?
Which brings me back to the act-by-numbers approach of this new theatrical rage. I've seen happenings, or even flash-mobs, that involved the audience in a carefully planned theatrical experience, usually without them even being aware of their participation. But to put that same concept on a stage, and then to try to think outside the box, when you are, by nature, usually in a black-box theater . . . heavens, what are you doing?
Is all this post-post-drama even theater? Isn't that the same as saying (as we have with art) that all we need to do is exhibit something on a stage for it to be theater? The two shows at PS 122 have sets and, as with An Oak Tree, use silent audio devices to feed their characters text, so you can make the argument that there's still creativity. It's not quite improv: there are scripts. But it's not a reading. And it's not technically acting (any more than going about life is). So what is it?