A Sneak Preview of
The first article in a series by
To Be Published in the Women's Press
The day I rediscovered The Seven Year Itch on T.V., I learned that George Axelrod, author of the play and screenplay, had died. As a theater person, I was disappointed that Id never known The Seven Year Itch was a play. I recalled an essay by Dwain Edwards (Stolen Fire Theater) that argued that theater was dead (www.stolenfire.net/deadnote.html). At the time, I argued that theater, the art form that has spanned time and culture, that had birthed the cinema, was not dead. But sometimes I cant deny it might be true.
Theater is struggling. The shows produced (old standbys, 1960s musicals), the audience demographics (few under 25), and the lack of a popular following (few full houses), suggest that theater may be forgotten in a generation or two. Why do I prefer to be in denial? Because Ive been in the audience and have been inspired by what I saw on stage. Because acting, being on stage, living someone elses story, making a point, making people think, is challenging and draining. Intelligent words highlight human conditions and feed the imagination. Powerful theater surprises you, makes you question, and changes you. Unlike cinema, theater does not rely on scenery, stunts, or soundtracks to propel the story. Theater is dialogue-driven, fueled by words to be spoken for a live audience to digest.
Sadly, in an era of DVDs, MTVs, PS2s (Playstation 2), and www.everything.now, theater has steep competition for an audience. Local groups struggle to keep financially afloat. Pacific Light Opera Theater (P.L.O.T.), Centerpoint Theater Group, and Stolen Fire no longer actively produce plays due to lack of financing and/or venues. Unlike music education, theater has not been popularly linked to higher I.Q.s and improved test scores. Thus it is not backed by political, educational, and popular clout.
Consequently, local theater groups bear much responsibility for keeping theater alive in their communities. Offering contemporary, and relevant productions is key to cultivating a new audience. Centerpoint Theaters production of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, (Abridged) drew sold out audiences, young (high school/college students on par with the cult following of the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and old. SLO Little Theater addressed a timely topic with The Laramie Project a play about the Mathew Shephard murder. And Stolen Fire took risks by producing only original plays.
Original plays are financially risky to produce because audiences want to see something they know they will like. Yet, to continue producing the same safe plays is akin to showing the same 10 movies over the next five years and wondering why people arent going to the movies anymore. True, theater is not cinema. Theater cannot reproduce the digital effects, car chases, or violence and sex that the movies offer to a passive audience. Instead, theater can provide an immediacy between actor and audience that is palpable and electrifying. Whereas a movie audience can be present in a self-involved, masturbatory fashion, the intercourse between the theater audience and the actors on stage is active. This shared human experience pulls you in, takes you for a ride, and leaves you spent. And here lies its strength.
The focus of this series is to find out whats being done in SLO County to capitalize on this strength, to keep theater alive, and to cultivate a new audience. Incidentally, Axelrod disliked the movie version of the The Seven Year Itch. because it omitted the nude bedroom scene of the theatrical production. Stolen Fires Whats It All About Albee? had a nude bedroom scene. You could hear people drawing in breath. Was it more powerful than seeing a nude person on the movie screen? Oh, yes. Is this the only way to draw people in to theater? Literally? Well, desperate times require desperate measures. Metaphorically? Yes. Nude bedroom scenes are always relevant.