Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Theatre Arts In America

Hello, Theatre Arts Blog Reader. I've started this blog to talk about the theatre in America in general, from my perspective as an actor, writer, musician and venue owner in Portland, Oregon.

SHORT RESUME TIME: I've worked at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in the Bay Area, and at Seattle Public Theatre; in Humboldt County, CA at about all the community theatres, and here in Portland for Staged! Musical Theatre and others. I've lived west coast theatre, and experienced east coast theatre as audience member primarily. I've performed in over 50 productions, played music professionally, and directed/produced 5 or 6 independent theatre shows. I've been in the theatre since I was 11 years old.

Because of this experience, and my natural alignment toward the communicating arts, I'm worthy of shouting my strong opinions on the subject of live performance; but more accurately, I'm a ball of opinion because this is my passion. It is who I am. When everything else has distracted me for too long, the theatre is home, where I'll always have a room, and my posters haven't been taken down.

As part of my goal in establishing a web presence for my theatre discourse, I am also working on seeing more shows, not being so insulated, and haughty. My general sense is that theatre in America sucks ball sacks. Dry, with no sauce or anything to make it any tastier. I'm really trying to take the perspective that all theatre has something to offer me, even if I know that's bullshit, that theatre arts never got traction in our culture, and that that's fucked up.

When I see shit that's inappropriate on stage in front of me, I am offended. It's like when I'm having dinner with my little Norwegian mother and I forget to keep my elbows off the table...She gets this look of disgust on her face that would level a pope. Then quietly, she says, "Zachary. Is that proper etiquette for the dinner table?" This is how I feel when I see tool-bags spewing drivel on a proper proscenium. I spill my rancid, cool enough not to cause a lawsuit starbucks in my lap, and leave at the act cursing the Artistic Director for preventing him/herself from ever taking a risk since 1987 when they finished their thesis.

With this caveat, let me begin:
The last good show I saw was in 2008 at a little upstart theatre in Portland called the Portland Playhouse, which, appropriately, has since lost its space because the artists inhabiting the old church forgot, or didn't care, to get permitted to perform in the space. A shame because it was a great little space for theatre artists to abscond with. The play was called "Bingo With The Indians". It was an actor's allegory about commitment to a role and the death of theatre due to the LACK of commitment on the part of the creators of the work. It had a well-articulated thesis and an actual metaphor that required involvement from the audience. It also had a cocaine-driven monologue in the end that raised the roof--the only place left for the actor to go was to heaven after such a performance. Now this is the shit I want to see. It had its problems, but over all it was rather epic, and it wasn't self-referential to the point of gaggature like some film awards show.

Before that, the last great show I saw was in 2001 in Seattle at another defunct theatre, the Empty Space, called "Texarkana Waltz". That show was fucking brilliant. It had a prisoner in a huge cage who got rolled onto the tiny stage in this massive cage for his scenes, and it had a retarded cowboy who was a soothsayer--of course--and it was all about finding a form of theatre that actually appeals to you and I! It was modern, new theatre! What a fucking novelty. The setting sun was a little light-box up center. Just a small, innovative show. I looked for the script a couple of years later and couldn't find it anywhere. if anyone knows the writer or where to find a working copy, please email me!

The point is: These are the two shows I remember. I've seen probably 40 shows between 2001 and now. Last year I saw Long Days Journey with Billy The Hurt at ART in Portland. William Hurt was great! But what an albatross, that show! Who is picking this shit to produce? Half the cast didn't even know what they were saying! The other half was so busy reading lines that they forgot to breathe. Oh the fuck Christ.

Is there a vital theatre in America? If so, where the fuck Christ is it? Is it in the dirty alley behind the Mark Taper Forum, hemorrhaging due to a lack of adequate medical treatment? Is it in a dive bar in Lents in SE Portland playing to an audience of ten SSI ex-loggers a la "Tombstone"? How does this theatre happen? Where does it grow? Is it necessarily relegated to non-profit status? How does it realize itself in a country that calls Asstown Kutcher an actor?

These are just questions. They are the musings of a man in need of a proper theatre in the only country he's ever called home.


  1. Fuck you! You've seen 2 shows I've been in and 2 or so I've directed and they didn't make your list. You blow. Yes, I am taking this time to be self-referential because this is America, baby, where any asshole has a say. ;) Glad you're posting to let your thoughts be heard.

    1. I loved your performance in Songs For A New World, Elizabeth! That was a very good performance. It wasn't theatre as much as songbook time, but I enjoyed it very much just the same. And I love you.

  2. May I suggest you see more Portland theatre before throwing such barbs dear sir...how much Portland theatre have you seen really in the last 3 years you've been here? (Billy The Hurt aside...) Did you make it to any Fertile Ground performances this year?
    Please do be an informed shit talker. (albeit, you are an eloquent shit talker...).

  3. Hey, Jessica! Thanks for the comment! I'm not indicting Portland theatre, per se. I'm indicting theatre EVERYWHERE in America, including Portland! Do you feel like Portland has a corner on the good theatre market? If so, point me in the right direction, for Pete's sake! I want nothing more than to walk out of a Portland theatre saying, "OMG". That shit was Bomb, and I ain't forgetting that for years. Unfortch, that's not happened yet.

  4. PS. I was in a Fertile Ground piece and had a blast!