There are adult actors on Chicago stages tonight who weren’t born yet when “The Simpsons” first hit the airwaves. Why do I mention that factoid? Read on.
As I sat in the lobby (read: small cramped space just outside the theater) at A Red Orchid Theatre this past Monday night, I was able to take in the conversations of a number of the other reviewers in town. I was somewhat appalled. When it comes down to it, there seems to be a generational divide amongst the reviewers in town. Within the pop culture of our society, we might come to believe that the baby boomers and the millennials are in some sort of battle that consists mostly of arguments about work-ethic v. opportunity. That’s not what I’m talking about here. What I am talking about still focuses on the baby boomers, however. As a 40 year-old member of the generation in between (Gen X), I can clearly state that the elder members of the brigade of critics present that night do not have our interests in mind when they are reviewing plays. I heard discussion of the importance of “West Side Story” and “Camelot”. I heard how not a one of them was familiar with “The Simpsons”, which is the topic of another show that was opening that same weekend. I heard them essentially call for more theatre that isn’t new. According to what I heard in that lobby, those of us creating truly new work should probably pack up and go home. It was a little bit frightening, in truth.
Just for a moment, let us consider the comments that I took in during that 20 minutes in a room with 5 other critics. I was the only one who had ever watched an episode of “The Simpsons”. Now, the other reviewers in question are about the same age as my parents (perhaps a couple of years younger). Since the show has been on the air since 1989 (that’s not counting the original appearances on the “Tracey Ullman Show” back in 1987), it has been a major part of popular culture since three weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps cartoons aren’t these people’s thing, I’ll grant you that. However, over the last 25+ years, you’d think that they might have chosen to turn on the program to see what the hubbub was about! Now, I’m not an avid viewer of “The Simpsons”, but I know enough about them and their place in Americana to know that my generation and the one follow it were both affected by it. In order to better know the people who we are trying to get into the theaters, we should consider knowing what it is that interests them.
Long-established theatre companies are constantly struggling to bring in new (read: younger) audiences. Younger theatre companies tend to bring in the friends and family of those in their productions. The problem with having a set of influential reviewers who yearn for the return of musicals from 1957 & 1960 (“West Side Story” and “Camelot”, respectively), is that they are perpetuating the problems that audience development people are fighting on a daily basis.
It isn’t just a sense of being out of touch with the younger generations that came across. One gentleman (I use the term loosely, the guy was a pompous ass) spoke at length about how he assigned the plays that he assumed would be bad to his younger colleagues. What bothers me is not that he assigns shows that he’d rather not review to others. I think we’re all happier when we’re seeing shows that we enjoy. Right? But, the fact of the matter is that he won’t expand his own horizons. If he doesn’t do that, if none of them push past their boundaries which seem to be defined by a time long gone by, then they aren’t effective critics of the art of theatre. Instead they have shifted to looking at it as entertainment only. And when people do that, they tend to latch on to only what makes them comfortable. Art shouldn’t make us comfortable. It should make us think, experience, react, and be moved to action. Artists who are pushing the boundaries, or even those just tentatively exploring them, shouldn’t be relegated to a level below what the old guard wants to promote.
I guess, in a way, this little rant of mine is nothing more than a justification for why we do the randomness thing here. But, it is also a call to all of those of us who are older than the majority of the actors in this community to become aware of what their world is like. To review their art, one must also know them and their audience. Also, I would call upon other critics to know a little more about their own world. To ignore 25+ years of entertainment history, while writing about part of the entertainment industry, is just ridiculous. It is reactionary. It is sad.
Onto the chart (finally!). A few long-running shows are still on here. It’s hard to believe that “Lookingglass Alice” hasn’t been rolled yet, honestly. That thing has been lurking on the chart for weeks. That happened last year for a number of months to “Bible Bingo”, which did eventually show up on the dice. Perhaps this will be the week for the Lookingglass show. Perhaps not. Such is the fun of rolling the bones!
Maggie will be seeing one show this week. Jackie isn’t reviewing this week. And I will be doing 3 shows on behalf of Newcity Magazine again. The number of shows that I’m reviewing for them has taken a toll on the number I can do here for my own site, but I will be cutting back over the next few months, as my own projects will keep me away from freelancing much. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the links that I provide to my other reviews.
Now for something completely random:
- I discovered that a rearview camera is worthless when confronted with wet pavement on a sunny day. The glare makes the view nothing more than a bright fireball of blindness. The rental car that I had while I was up in MN this past weekend was equipped with a camera because its rear window was tiny and divided by a bar going horizontally across its midpoint (who designed that?!). Generally, I would never buy a Hyundai Veloster. And not just because of the stupid name.
- Looking around my office, I typed in the first 5 objects I saw into a google image search. The words were: “fan box lotion runner hat”. Here’s the first image result: http://dreamweddingsbalistyle.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Screen-Shot-2012-07-31-at-1.40.26-PM.jpg
- I want an interrobang key on my keyboard. Does anyone know how to get my machine to type an interrobang?
- Today’s trivia is completely made up by The Mechanical Contrivium:
- Finding tar on Christmas morning is believed to bring good luck.
- Ostriches stick their heads in tar not to hide but to look for water.
- In Vermont, the ratio of cows to tar is 10:1.
- The porpoise is second to tar as the most intelligent animal on the planet.
- Tar can eat up to four kilograms of insects in a single night.
- It takes forty minutes to hard-boil tar.
- Tar can be very poisonous if injected intravenously!
- Baby swans are called tar.
- Only fifty-five percent of men wash their hands after using tar!
- Lightning strikes tar over seven times every hour.