Monday, January 24, 2011

state of the arts. (thoughts on theater).

I found the playwright Oliver Emanuel (@foolisholly) on Twitter via the wonderful actor Samuel West (@exitthelemming), and through Oliver I found Daniel Bye (@danielbye), also a playwright/theatre director. I'm not familiar with Daniel's theatre work, although he is certainly brilliant and hilarious in his tweets and blog posts, but Oliver does a fair amount of radio work, which is occasionally available through BBC radio online. This is a new facet of globalization, one where I can talk to writers in England (sorry, and Scotland; Emanuel is based in Glasgow, I think) in the middle of the night in Seattle (morning there) or vice versa, where I can listen to a radio play that might otherwise go unheard as I live halfway around the world.

I grew up in Seattle amidst what I thought was an intense and intimate theater scene in terms of a passionately connected community of actors and local playwrights. The big names - Pinter, Stoppard, McDonagh, et al., trickled out from London via New York; if it was a hit there it might eventually make it out here. (I leave out the classics - Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen, and so forth - the same rules don't apply). You might see someone local working on a project in readings and workshops, but you wouldn't see the powerhouse playwrights except for at the height of their careers, their greatest hits. It wasn't until Frank Corrado's Pinter Fortnightly series of readings that I understood the great beauty of being able to experience the complete arc of an artist's body of work.

What we have here in Seattle is a network of small theatre companies and programs like ACT Theatre's Central Heating Lab, which acts as a sort of incubator for new work. They operate on a shoestring and a prayer and they create art, the next generation of artists. It is a homegrown process. What we don't have is a way to see other young playwrights across the globe, how they are working, how they are coming into their own, creating their own language, creating their own New Wave. When I think about British theatre my frame of reference is off by a generation or four; I came of age reading Stoppard and Pinter and John Osborne. I need to see what's happening right now, to bring my sense of awareness up to date.

What I get to do now, thanks to the Internet, is watch (or rather, listen to) these young playwrights - ferociously intelligent and funny, of my own generation - create a body of work that, years from now, can be looked upon as something extraordinary. Already I have heard four different radio plays by Oliver Emanuel, already I have seen how a distinct voice can develop and evolve from work to work. It is a beautiful thing.

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