Saturday, November 22, 2014

it's just me and all the old geezers.

A few weeks ago, I went to a matinee of VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE at ACT. It was a Saturday, and I looked around me, and the other 400 people in the audience were between 65 and 85 years old, give or take. And they LOVED it. They roared with laughter, sighed with recognition, had a whale of a good time. I enjoyed the play - it’s very funny, and it starred many of my favorite actors - but more than that I enjoyed their enjoyment. They understood and responded to the cultural references that sailed over my head by a good thirty or forty years. It’s a very special experience, going to the theatre with people who remember and understand the time referenced in a work. I notice this especially in plays that connect to the Vietnam War; for those who were young at that time it seems to have just happened only yesterday.

A couple days later I came across The Stranger’s review, titled ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike Is Clickbait for Wealthy Geezers.’ This is not an unfair assessment, it is the truth. This is how theaters like ACT and Seattle Rep survive, because the aforementioned Wealthy Geezers are their lifeblood. The season line-up has to include something new, something “daring” (daring by Wealthy Geezer standard to make them feel like even though they are on Medicare they are still Hip and Culturally Aware), something Tony-award-winning, maybe a musical. You have to have at least one clickbait play, and you should ideally position it at the end of the season, so the WGs will a) sign up for next year’s subscription and b) throw in another $3,000 donation. If you are Seattle Rep, you won’t even list a donor in the back of the program for less than $1,000 a year. This is why I tend to donate money to small theaters for whom the $100 I send them means more than pocket change.

And you know what? I’m ok with all of this. The support of the Old Geezers means that Seattle Rep can commission something like Justin Huertas’ LIZARD BOY, a comic-book musical jam-packed with - as it was when I saw an early version - dick jokes and teenage first love. It means that ACT can create their Central Heating Lab program, which helps support new and independent theatre companies who have a name and a vision but no space to create in. In time I won’t be the young kid in the audience - I will be one of the Geezers. Maybe by then I’ll be the one donating $3,000 a year. Maybe by then I’ll be in a position to commission new work. Maybe by then my taste will be the one that dominates while the younger generation rolls its eyes.

Personal taste is just that - personal. You have to see things you don’t like, things that don’t move you or that you don’t connect with, in order to understand more clearly what it is that you do love. I don’t love Tony-award-winning plays, those big Broadway machines that sweep the awards and then are produced by every single regional theater across the country the next year. I love new work, but I also love classics - Chekhov, Tennessee Williams, Beckett. Shakespeare is his own category. I look for stories about loss, longing, love, hope, forgiveness; I look for familiar faces, changing, pushing themselves, evolving, people I have loved for a long time, new people I look forward to seeing more of. This is what matters to me, what keeps me coming back. I hope it never goes away.

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