I'm going through a period recently where I feel a bit like I'll never fit in with the theatre culture in which I exist. Where you feel like your value system and priorities are completely out of whack with everyone else's. Because if you all hate that show - and I think it's brilliant - or vice versa, then isn't it fair to think that we're off on a difficult foot?
I feel it's important to mark those moments. To remember when you feel differently. And to lay the beacon for anyone who might feel similarly.
There is a tweet today that made me feel this acutely:
216 likes! less than 12 hours!
Liked and retweeted and replied to by many friends and people I respect.
I mean, there is pretentiousness here - and, without knowing who it is - I can imagine the voice and it being pretty irritating.
But - gulp - I dunno if there's anything wrong with the content of what's spoken here.
Luke (who I've briefly met once or twice, who has always been very nice, and who I believe to be a very fine playwright) says that he didn't understand a show and - probably from generosity and curiosity - asked the director what the idea and vision was behind it. To me, this implies that a show needs to be able to be explained in order to be any good. The ask for the idea feels suspiciously close to 'message theory', in which an audience's job is to decode whatever signs are put in front of them in order to read the show's message. Spectating becomes exclusively an intellectual, rather than visceral, exercise. The clearest way this has been described to me is that the experience of watching The Wizard of Oz (the film) is so much more than 'There's no place like home'. It's for this reason why I'm suspicious of that mainstay of contemporary British directing education - describe the production in one sentence, and organise all scenic elements around that single sentence.
But, there's more, why wouldn't an audience want to 'read their own truth'? Again I dunno if I'd put it like that, but why would you want to explain everything to an audience? They're always going to be active audience members regardless of what you put in front of them, so why wouldn't you want them to make leaps in logic, to imagine speculative connections, to allow it to resonate in their lives in their own way, and then to have a lively debate about their experience afterwards? Sebastian Nübling - one of my biggest influences - often says that things are too "Hollywood" when they are spelt out too clearly. Have a bit of a faith in the audience.
The tweet's imagined utopian theatre experience is a room of people, having an encounter with a performance with an idea (a vision, not visions!), and for some people to get that idea and for some people to not get that idea. That all feels literary, intellectual, like a university seminar, and it isn't for me.
I dunno what the show was. A show that creates the experience of 'I don't understand this' in its audience is often doing something wrong (often, conversely, by creating a tension in the audience that there is a message that they are not getting - rather than allowing them to relax into the experience).
And I have nothing invested in making Luke or anyone else change their mind. I don't think that I'm right - I am perfectly comfortable with the idea that there are people who think differently about theatre to me.
But the universalisation of that one experience into a set of aesthetic guidelines - liked by 216 people and joked with loads of gifs - makes me feel like I'm having a completely different conversation to a massive section of my peers & the theatre audience.
And that's pretty effin' lonely.