Archive for April, 2009

That’s absurd.

I’ve been heartily enjoying a read of Martin Esslin’s landmark book The Theatre of the Absurd.  It’s a bit embarrassing that I haven’t read it before, actually.  (Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when I was studying theater in college, my theater history professor believed that the only post-Shakespearean theater worth mentioning was described in the diary of Samuel Pepys; we barely made it to the end of the 17th Century.)  In any case, Esslin’s book, first published in 1961,  is a surprisingly fresh investigation of the trends in theater he observed (and coined) as “Absurd,” including the works of Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, and Genet.

In many ways, reading this book is like finding a long-lost, annotated family tree.  My own searching, investigative approach to performance seems to fit squarely within this lineage of “the absurd.”  I am at once comforted by a sense of belonging and challenged to aspire to the greatness of these artists.  Yet, at the same time, there is a nagging question: Where are the women?

I’m not suggesting that all of these men (and there are many discussed in the book, not just the headline names) don’t deserve as much attention as they receive.  I’m just curious if there were ANY women exploring similar work.  Did the social structures of the ’40s and ’50s mean that the women were overlooked, or did the social structures keep them out of the game entirely?  To stretch my family tree metaphor, I feel like I’m missing an important piece of my own lineage.  Forefathers are important, but foremothers are too.  (Is “foremothers” even a word?)

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In my little corner of the NY performing arts community there has been much consternation over an article, which finally appeared in yesterday’s NY Times.  The article exposes to the general public (or at least to the general public which includes readers of the Times Arts Section) that NYC’s massive capital boom ate a few arts organizations alive, and those same organizations are struggling with large burdens of debt.  As someone who has intimate knowledge of these organizations and projects, I only wish that the article had gone further to implicate the lack of foresight on behalf of the City and show more clearly how it dangled the carrot of “a permanent home” in front of eviction-weary arts organizations that none dared refuse.  Perhaps it can all be blamed on misguided expectations from both sides: arts organizations expecting the City to assist them with these new ventures more thoroughly, and the City expecting the arts organizations to have more infrastructure in place.  Indeed, the arts organizations had some naivete working against them, but for the City to claim no culpability here is truly infuriating.  In these cases, as with so many in this economic disaster, we are all responsible, and we must all work together to find solutions, or risk losing important pieces of our culture.

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