My most recent theatrical revelation came from a combination of a conversation with a professor and the Bread and Puppet production “Dirt Cheap Opera” that I saw on Sunday night at gallery five.
I think I’ve been asking the wrong questions. I like to question things. I pride myself in asking not what theater is, but what it can be, what I would like it to be. I think nightlight has done a good job of confronting those questions, and I’m excited for it to continue to do so, but I think there may be harder, more important questions to tackle. I sat down to have a conversation with a professor at VCU and asked what I’ve begun to call the question with no answer “how do I become a director?” He proceeded to give me the answer that I’ve been getting from most people, “that’s a tough one” and then went on to talk about art in general. He said that the way that you begin to become a director is by creating your own projects, but it’s then that you have to answer the really hard questions. I expected the normal “what is theater, what kind of theater do you want to create, what is your process” but he started somewhere much more basic. “What do you want to say and how can you say it in a way that effects people?” before you start addressing the medium, address the central question, because theater, at its heart is about communication. It’s not about “making art” it’s about sharing a message, a story with the audience.
I saw Bread and Puppet Theater’s “Dirt cheap Opera” when it was at Gallery Five this Sunday. The puppets were made of cardboard, the actors laughed at each other onstage, and the pictures were crowded and muddled. But what they did right, what filled the seats and will make people come back for more is that they had a message, their message translated into a story, and they were passionate about telling that story. Their passion gave their performances lightness, a joy, a kinetic energy that the audience couldn’t help but get wrapped up in. I talked to theater folks after the show and it was frustrating how quickly the conversation turned to critique of style and methods. They were upset about the staging, about the puppets falling apart. I talked to nontheater folks; maybe theatergoers but not performers or directors or designers and they loved it. They paid no attention to the craftsmanship of the puppet or the use of plane, all that they knew is that they had fun, the work spoke to them, and they wanted more. So in that way, Bread and Puppet did something with no budget that a lot of theaters can’t do with millions of dollars, they spoke to people. And that is what theater is about (at least I hope). It’s so easy for us to get wrapped up in asking questions about art, when the real question is not about art at all; it’s about creative communication. It’s about talking to people in a way that makes them want to listen.
Lighter, Freer, More Joyful.