Not Bowdlerizing But Baudelairizing
|Thoughts on The Alchemist
||[Nov. 14th, 2006|01:11 pm]
Last night I went to see Ben Jonson's play The Alchemist with my best friend the_alchemist (beat that!) and this morning I dusted off my crappy skippy Discman so I could listen to the fab new Jarvis album on my way to work. So life is good.|
The Alchemist isn't, as far as I can see, deep and meaningful in any way. What it is, is a very funny quickfire farce about three amoral conmen, changing accents and disguises at breakneck speed to divest a parade of gullible idiots at their door of all their money. Despite some inevitable pop-culturisation from the director, the play is actually pretty amusing in and of itself: I guess locking a man in a fetid privy and forgetting about him never goes out of style. It was also a joy to see Simon Russell Beale in the flesh - the rumour is he might be the greatest theatre actor of our time, and I'm not about to gainsay it.
As interesting, though, as the play was being able to turn my head, once the lights are up, and see the sea of greying heads and well-dressed bodies making up the audience. Barring a few sulky-looking pressganged teenage daughters, even a hip and hyped production like this is entirely frequented by the middle-aged from the middle-classes. It was almost a surprise that they chose to applaud at the curtain instead of rattling their jewellery. And this is my problem with theatre: I *shouldn't* be one of the youngest and poorest people in the audience, and if I am, something is badly rotten in the state of Denmark.
Of course I wrote off ballet and opera as irrelevant a long time ago, but I'm sad I might have to do it to theatre as well. It's a medium I want to like, but the more I think about it the less I think it's justifiable. It's way too trapped in its tradition, way too obsessed with its past, and obviously being kept on life support by cash injections from rich smug arbiters of what constitutes worthwhile art. Whether or not the theatre cares about attracting the young, do the young care about being attracted by the theatre? I wish I could call to mind lots of examples of young creative people putting on plays outside the edifice of the establishment. But I don't think that's what young creative people do any more.
Which brings me on to a bugbear of mine. Just why are people so down on this medium that you're participating in right now, i.e. blogging? There's this prevalent assumption that all this is worthless procrastination and idleness, perpetrated by people who either have no talent or else are wasting theirs. This I dispute. While an flist 450-strong does not equate to an audience that size, I can be fairly confident that three figures of people read anything I choose to write. That's better than a lot of plays, especially given that I'm one person and not a company. Sure, I don't make any money from this, but I do get paid in kind, when I read the journals that all my interesting friends write, and isn't that purer somehow than slaving in an office for an hour or two to exchange for a book, CD or show? I love being here and it *is* art, beautiful, democratic, and non-elitist, pleasantly lacking in the objectionable distinction between the creatives and the passive consumers of the audience.
Interactivity without any frontiers is the future of human endeavour. Why so slow to embrace it?
I think you'll find opera is one of the least elitest art forms in existence.
Who actually *goes* to the opera? I'm confused.
Just playing devil's advocate here, but: I find it difficult to understand how a bunch of fat people singing in Italian to centuries-old music can be something many people would like randomly, I mean without having to make an effort to...
Why so slow to embrace it?
They can't work out how to make money from it yet.
I don't want to make money out of it. My entire way of living is a poster campaign for spending three days of the working week making money, and the other two days a week sharing wit and ideas with my peers in return for their own output.
Shame my bosses aren't willing to endorse this selfless and utopian workplace behaviour of mine!
Hmm, I think the theatre age problem may have something to do with when you saw it: I went on The Alchemist's opening night and it had a higher proportion of hip young thangs - your twee middle class twenty somethings being evidently keen to boast tiresomely that they've seen it already at the start of the run, with the old farts content simply to see it anywhen - perhaps when they've gotten around to bedding out the primulas or whatever it actually is old middle class people do.
Hmm, wasn't there some sort of seats-for-a-tenner promotion going on in the early part of the run? Which could corroborate j4
's theory that young people do flock to the theatre when it's in their price range.
However I'm going to be a philistine still anyway, and say that film is a more cost-effective and polished route to bringing art to the masses :P
2006-11-14 01:53 pm (UTC)
this is my problem with theatre: I *shouldn't* be one of the youngest and poorest people in the audience
But if you go to posh, expensive theatres, you probably will be. I certainly can't afford to go to the National all the time, and I'm reasonably well-paid. Or are you saying that all theatres should offer penny tickets for groundlings?
The theatre I've been to most in recent years is the ADC in Cambridge
, and I've seen some fantastic productions there; tickets rarely if ever cost more than 7 quid, and I usually feel quite old when I look at the audience -- most of them are students. Now that I'm back in Oxford, I'm looking forward to being able to go to the Burton Taylor
again, where as far as I can tell from the website the standard ticket price has only gone up by a quid since 1999. That used to be mostly-student audiences, so I'll probably feel positively middle-aged in there, but it's worth it.
I'm sure London has similar venues where people can see great theatre at accessible prices -- and my anecdotal evidence suggests that when they can
afford it, they do
Book early enough and you can get ten pound tickets for any performance at the National.
Last night I went to see Ben Jonson's play The Alchemist with my best friend the_alchemist (beat that!)
Can't quite beat
it, but I ought to be on the highscore table at least having played in lathany
's eponymous roleplaying campaign.
On the subject of blogs - they account for about 80% of all the media sources I follow and aside from gaming account for a similar proportion of my entertainment time. Anyone who doesn't think them important is simply missing the point that when anyone
can publish the trick is in locating
the content you value.
And as far as plays go, you should try some of the stuff on the Edinburgh Fringe... Young and hip almost to excess in some cases, I hear.
I love the Edinburgh Fringe! But to a certain extent I think it's its own audience.
Another thought I had, that I forgot to put in my original post, is that most art runs into problems because it *needs* to have 10% of people creating and 90% in the audience. Imagine if everyone spent all their time working furiously on artistic creation, there'd be no one left to come out and appreciate the finished products! One thing that I like best about blogging is that reading and responding to other people's stuff on a daily basis is an intrinsic part of the medium. It's so classless!
If you want to see exciting, young, poor people at the theatre, go and see some exciting, new, cheap shows. Frequent the BAC and the 503 at the Latchmere, which are both near you.
Opera is open to all, opera at the ROH less so.
Are they poor because they're poor, or just poor because their wealthy grandparents haven't died and left them their inheritance yet? Okay, I'm beating this drum much too hard, but I'm a bit tired of artforms that are done by the moneyed classes for the moneyed classes. Do as many poor kids on estates grow up wanting to tread the boards as want to be Eminem?
Don't write off theatre completely just yet. You've been to see a meaningless piece of old-fashioned fun - is it all that much of a wonder that its audience were meaningless (to your lefter-than-thou persona), old-fashioned and (to my meaningless, old-fashioned persona) fun. The theatre has an establishment, and you are bemoaning the fact that a pillar of that establishment is not challenging and not catering to your disestablishmentarian tendencies. Establishments by their nature look to a status quo and do not challenge. If you want things to challenge, look not to the establishment, look to the fringes, and you will find smaller theatres full of young people indulging in sex and drugs and rock and roll or whatever it is young people do these days to rebel. Theatre has not lost all its ability to attract controversy (see that recent-ish to-do over an allegedly anti-Sikh play). You just need to dig a little deeper to find it.
I'm glad you still like being here!
but I do get paid in kind, when I read the journals that all my interesting friends write, and isn't that purer somehow than slaving in an office for an hour or two to exchange for a book, CD or show?
Very good point. Especially given that I get internet services for free through my husband's university job, so all it actually costs me to read the fabulous writing on my flist is the price of electricity. And my LJ friends are much more interesting than the last few books I tried to read.
Don't get me started on books! I only read them sporadically at best these days, and that's because they're part of what I'm criticising too: a bloated, elitist medium run by mafiaesque publishing cartels who have total dictatorial say-so over what's "worthy" for us to read.
When bookshops were full of slim fantasy/sci-fi paperbacks cheerfully churned out of small presses, being a reader must have been barrels of fun. Now, not so much.
Just why are people so down on this medium that you're participating in right now, i.e. blogging?
Well, by "people" I think you probably mean "mainstream press commentators", and there the answer is simple enough. The certain knowledge that the thing they make a living doing can be and is done for free by thousands of equally talented amateurs alarms and terrifies them. Look at how down religious fundamentalists are on science, how down islamists are on liberal democracy, how down mothers are on the emerging sexuality of their daughters. Not surprising, not unreasonable, and ultimately not very illuminating except to show that we tend towards a primal terror of what we know will replace us.
Mainstream press commentators are one thing, but I was also thinking about the virtual self-hatred of a lot of people on here. It's like everyone thinks blogging is something you do because you can't be a success, rather than celebrating as something that may be contributing to you being a success. Certainly I don't think I or the world would be any richer if I gave up LJ and took up ping pong instead.
1. The audience for a staging of a 400 year-old play probably doesn't reflect the demographic of the general theatre-going audience.
2. Opera and ballet audiences aren't necessarily old and rich. They are at the ROH, but not so at Sadler's Wells. You can see both artforms at cinema prices if you're willing to book ahead and sit at the back.
3. The blogs most worth reading are usually more than non-profit online personal journals. There are plenty of for-profit blogging networks, professionals writing workblogs, etc.
4. Bookshops were never full
of slim fantasy/SF paperbacks. Genre small presses are still around and selling through the Amazon long tail, e.g. Golden Gryphon
. The pulps have gone online e.g. Baen's Universe
, Escape Pod
To complain about gatekeepers in book publishing, at a time where more books are being published than ever, is just to admit that you are not interested enough to look beyond the 3 for 2 display at Borders.
Similarly, your complaints about opera boil down to the fact that you don't really like or know much about opera. It's something that's passed from the mainstream and is an acquired taste, but in terms of actually seeing performances, it's still quite accessible - don't forget you can also rent the CDs and DVDs for next to nothing from your local library.
You can see both artforms at cinema prices if you're willing to book ahead and sit at the back
You could be black and ride on the bus in the American Deep South in the mid-20th century, if you were willing to sit at the back then too.
Okay, maybe I shouldn't have said that if you aren't American, you shouldn't take this survey
. At least you might get an appreciation for what some small theater companies in the U.S. are trying to do, and it isn't necessarily Neil Simon.
I hardly ever go to the theater because so much of it is crap.
I do enjoy going to the opera but I guess I wasn't raised poor enough for the environment to be intimidating. It is very expensive. Fortunately, my mom likes to go and my dad doesn't, so she takes me to a few each year.
Art is elitist by its very nature.
A very amusing conversation to read. For what it's worth I'm with you as far as ballet and opera go; they're not for me, they're for a different kind of people. In theory I find theatre much more interesting; in practice I never, ever go. To take the obvious example, I meant to see History Boys for a tenner at the National, didn't. That's mostly about laziness, of course; I still mean to see it at the cinema, won't.
I like the idea of blogging as art, especially on lj, but it makes me rue the steady decline of my content even more.
a hip and hyped production like this
Not really. Theatre doesn't tend to be hyped much at all, and isn't presented as hip - and that's half the problem. Young people don't go to the theatre because they don't know about it, and if they do, it isn't promoted in the flashy, easy-access way mainstream cinema is. Expense is also a factor. As has been pointed out in others' comments, there are ways of getting round that - but they're not publicised either. Also, ballet and opera may not be relevant to mainstream pop culture, but they do have the right to exist, like any other art form - blogging, for example.
young creative people putting on plays outside the edifice of the establishment
Why are people down on blogging? I haven't met anyone who actively hates it, just people who don't care about it, or who, occasionally, mildly dislike it. Like any art form (and it is, or can be, an art form), some reckon it's brilliant, others couldn't give. Possibly those who do dislike it have somewhat Luddite tendencies anyway, and feel the same about other computer-related activities.
I do get paid in kind, when I read the journals that all my interesting friends write, and isn't that purer somehow than slaving in an office [or any other workplace?] for an hour or two to exchange for a book, CD or show?
Well, you enjoy the former, whereas the latter involves, depending on your job, a mild amount to a great deal of boredom, frustration and suffering. Suffering for art, for an ideal, an abstract, for something which (like blogging) has no huge monetary value but which you care about and believe in - some might say that's the purer action.
I'm going to see The Alchemist today and looking forward to it. We're on UKP 10 tickets - not great seats, but that's okay, at least I'm seeing the play.
I like opera (many of them) for the same sort of reasons I'm a fan of musicals. I like the sung life, where song is a natural extension of dialog. I like the tendency of many operas and musicals towards lavish production values.
We had £10 seats, I'm now told, and I have to say they afforded us an excellent view. Enjoy!
All new media get dissed, and all old media are respected, regardless of either's merits. 'Twas ever thus, and shows no sign of changing. This is because most people are stupid and bad at dealing with change.