“Theatre has nothing to do with buildings or other physical constructions. Theatre – or theatricality – is the capacity, this human property which allows man to observe himself in action, in activity.”
– Augusto Boal, The Rainbow of Desire
Let’s discuss convention, a way in which something is usually done. There are conventional ways to answer a telephone call from a stranger: “Hello? Yes, this is she,” as opposed to, “Greetings! My nose itches. Tell me, how do you feel about Rob Lowe?” Usually, one would go with the first response, as this speeds up the process of understanding one another and getting on to the point of the conversation. The same can be said for the purpose of conventions in the theatre. These rules or guidelines, like looking both ways before crossing the street, often help those in the theatre have a pleasant, comprehensible experience. They are important. After all, what would theatre be without an audience?
In sooth, it would be obsolete. Like Latin or “sooth.” Theatre artists, even in the twenty-first century, remain indebted to theatrical convention. Theatre artists need to know which business models, design techniques, directing approaches, plot devices, and performance styles are all standard, conventional practice in order to meet qualifications for a job, so we can be successful, and maybe pay our bills and keep our Netflix account.
However, for me and my theatre friends in Pittsburgh, it’s not enough to get that opportunity, we want to make the most of it. We need to know what standard practices on the job are conventional, so we can find a way to successfully communicate our unconventional ideas. Then, sometimes, it’s shocking to discover an unconventional idea is now the norm. Being an artist is a humbling experience.
In this information age, for any creative professional, it can be overwhelming to try to effectively distinguish your voice. Especially when everyone – from the locals you serve coffee to during the day, to your Great Aunt Evelyn – asks about when you’re going to move to New York. Or Chicago. Or Los Angeles. You know, so you can start your real career in the arts. Guess what, my friends, that’s too conventional for most of us theatre folk here in Pittsburgh. We like to keep it interesting. No, that’s not an insecurity-driven cop-out. No, that’s not a sarcastic, self-deprecating code for “I just can’t afford metropolitan rent.”
It’s actually a matter of principle. In this conventional, and surprisingly unconventional, city in southwestern Pennsylvania many theatre artists are speaking up. Some are trainee-professionals, still studying, taking every opportunity to be on stage or involved in the production process in some small way. Some, like myself, are just finding their voice as recent graduates from local universities, fostering professional relationships built during their college years. Some are Pittsburgh natives, returning home to start a family after years of travel and even international exposure in the arts. Some are from a unique field or walk of life altogether, starting over, inspired, and renewing their creative passion by throwing themselves into the theatre.
Finally, there are some who actively discovered Pittsburgh for the Appalachian gem that it is. They opted to make a life here, to open a production company here, and to use their years of professional experience to enhance our already burgeoning theatre culture. All of these voices combined have laid the foundation for a hell of an artistic opportunity for a place like Pittsburgh, where you still have ordinary, middle class people attending theatre. Where it’s not like most places in New York or Chicago or L.A.; where the art is made for other artists or academics or for those that can afford it.
So, what do you say, Pittsburgh theatre artists? What do you say to an eager audience like that? What would you say to your professional peers? Do you find this to be true? If not, why have you chosen this city of steel?
Beginning July 10th, The Pittsburgh Stage will launch a weekly piece of inquiry dedicated to listening to the artistic leaders in our Pittsburgh theatre community. We will invite each of them to break with classical convention, acknowledge their audience and stage presence, so they can speak freely about their work, how they chose to do their work, and why they chose to do it in our beloved Pittsburgh.
Next Friday, look forward to reading our first installment of our weekly Artist Spotlight Series. This week: Off the Wall Productions’ Artistic Director, Virginia Wall Gruenert!
– See more at: http://www.pghstage.com/drupal_old/node/598#sthash.g2MgFdVL.dpuf