Thoughts and Musings...
As I contemplate the possibilities of this year’s Cal Rep season I am struck by the awesome responsibility that we have as theatre artists. We are a society in crisis: America is at war, our environment is threatened, and social problems are proliferating. What can or should we do?
I have always accepted that theatre’s responsibility is to provoke, and that good art is iconoclastic, contentious, and disturbing. Yet in the past couple of years these assumptions have been challenged. A tsunami of censorship has battered artistic institutions. From the early banning of Mapplethorpe’s photography, through the furor over Serrano’s provocative work, to the reversal of grants by the NEA and the riots in Denmark in response to the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, art is under attack.
But the most pernicious form of censorship is self-censorship, and for our theatre the danger is immanent. Not only commercial producers are cowardly—within the rarified cocoon of the nonprofit world, theatre companies are afraid to offend, plays have been withdrawn, seasons have been changed in response to a vaguely disguised fear. In backing away from the provocative, producers and theatre artists are violating my most sacred principles of art: shatter boundaries, provoke, we cannot be timid.
The plays in our season are challenging. We hope that they will inspire heated debate. If theatre is merely an intellectual exercise, a casual entertainment, a self-serving ego trip or a means to fame and fortune, it is empty. Great theatre can induce a visceral vital life-changing epiphany. It can change the way we see the world and each other. We need only look at the international impact of my fellow countryman, Athol Fugard, to appreciate the far-reaching power of theatre.
Great theatre must stimulate the intellect and shatter the carapace of indifference we so readily inhabit. It is not enough to be innovative and smart. Theatre must hit us where we live. It must be as intimate as love making, as absorbing and challenging as abstract philosophy, and as significant global politics.