Monday, April 30, 2007

Art is in the DNA of Species Memory

There is a book which I would like to recommend to all of you. It's called MAN'S RAGE FOR CHAOS and it's by Philosopher Morse Peckham of the University of South Carolina.

While my interpretation of Professor Peckham's theory is not a substitute for reading the book, allow me to share with you my understanding of the issue he addresses.

Peckham postulates that the Universe is chaotic and that those humans who are "artists" actually serve as the antennae of the species, that they are hyper sensitive and able to perceive changes in the impending chaos. To me the clearest historical manifestation of this lies in the art & writing of European artists just prior to and immediately after World War Two - cubism, abstract art, symbolism and, in the theater, absurdism. These radical and abrupt shifts in human aesthetics upset the world - but not nearly as much as the violence and pathology of Hitler's Germany and, subsequently, the oppressive domain of the USSR. In both cases, the writing was on the wall and artists put it there.

From my study of MANS RAGE FOR CHAOS, I have come to believe that the true artist is one who wakes up at 3am obsessed by an idea or an image and commits to bringing that obsession into some form of symbolic outreach. At the end of this process, the poor (but blessed) artist is quite often a wreck. For this reason, I believe that there are two things that true art does not wait for. One is permission. The other is money.

Where do scripts belong? Not in drawers or on shelves - not those of the artist, not those of the literary departments of theaters. Scripts belong in the hands of actors. One reason New York theater is propelled the way it is is because, after 10 or 15 unsuccessful auditions, actors take the initiative. I can't tell you how many of the most powerful productions I saw in NYC were generated by actors who grew tired of waiting for permission. I saw the same thing in Atlanta in the 1980's, when that city enjoyed and benefited from an organization called Actors in Renaissance and when Manuel's Tavern was filled every Friday and Saturday night after performances by pretty much every actor, director and playwright in town. The theatrical community was such an important part of Manuel's clientele that the tavern began presenting Shakespeare in the back room. From that evolved The Atlanta Shakespeare Festival. Sad to say, the Nashville theater community does not enjoy that kind of energy - so far - and I would be interested to know what the acting climate is like in other cities. And of course we constantly undermine our own communities by perpetuating the assumption that "If you were any good, you'd be in New York" If you're any good, people, you're "any good" where ever you are. Talent is not a geographical phenomenon. Let us at least respect ourselves and our colleagues and empower one another within our own communities.

While there is great reward in having a director or producer take a fit over your script, nothing compares to handing a script to an actor who is perfect for a role and knows it. Almost every production of my work has resulted from an actor's commitment to the script. The actor can be your greatest ally.

After the dramaturg, of course.

Jaz Dorsey