is it wrong to want to see yourself in the mirror?

In on It at Theater Alliance
Flu Season at Catalyst Theater

The other night I met someone not in theater. When told that I worked for a theater company he said, “yeah, I see Broadway plays sometimes but so many of them are about being in theater, it doesn’t relate to me.” I was about to argue, “that’s Broadway, so many plays about plays but in regional theaters…” but then I realized it’s prevalent through out all size theaters and where you least expect it. That weekend I found myself seeing two shows that were not backstage dramas but were very much about the art of theater.

Two men are on stage. Their characters keep shifting as they tell two stories that don’t seem to relate. One story is their story; how they met, the cute and awkward way they fell in love. One story they acknowledge they are acting out. They are playing parts. They swap parts, with one taking the one the other did last time. They alter how they are performing the parts. They discuss it. It is a show within a show. In On It is a meditation on life as the audience discovers that the story being told is one about how quickly the end can come, and how lives and deaths are intertwined. Yet the story is told in a purely theatrical way acknowledging and playing into the theatrical.

In Flu Season, the story, of love lost and found and lost again, of people connecting and disconnecting, also acknowledges and plays into the theatrical. At the top of the show the audience is introduced to the prologue, optimistic as one must be at the start of the play, and the epilogue, pessimistic and knowing.  The epilogue tracks the playwrights disatsfaction with the story he is writing and eventually the playwrights desire to destroy his characters. In the process the eager prologue ends up emotionally wrecked. The love story has sweet moments but the important story being told is that of telling the story. The inner story could be anything. We are watching a playwright writing.

The non-theater worker’s comments and the overtly theatricalized theater I’ve seen recently starting to make me wonder about the audience. I fully believe that playwrights, as artists, should write whatever they want. And daring companies should always take chances on producing their new work. But is there too much self-referential theater? Or maybe that’s not the question, but are there the audiences to support self-referential theater? At both shows the audience was over half theater workers (maybe more – I only recognized half). Of course those who work in theater are more likely to go (but less likely to pay).  Does it matter? Even if the plays were written for a theater working audience and they are the only ones who sees it, does it matter? Maybe a company could/should be created to specialize only in plays about plays for people who work on plays.

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2 Responses to is it wrong to want to see yourself in the mirror?

  1. Joey says:

    I wonder about stuff like this all the time too. There’s a LOT of writing that’s about struggling writers or about the art of writing in the last 30 years. I have a few pet theories, which you will now have to suffer through 😉
    Part of it is the old saw that writers must lead rich lives, and do much that is not writing (and talk to people who aren’t writers), so they have things to write about. I think culture have changed a bit to encourage self-referential writing and theater lately though. Things are specialized, and the entertainment industry is so much about knowing other people in it that it’s hard to have time to be involved in other things. I think it’s hard for writers to have time to research new things if they haven’t optioned a movie or something like that.
    blah, I might be talking out of my ass though

  2. Ronald Gordon says:

    Dear Hanvnah,
    I think that we rely on the mirror all of our lives. The mirror is the most important utility for our self-image. I was taught to use the mirror to look nice and be presentable to others. After all, the mirror comes from a dog’s reflection, right? Unfortunately he lost the bone, and for a while, could not see himself. Never be ashamed to look at yourself in the mirror and use your reflection as a daily guide. No matter who you are, you deserve a good self-image, and a positive approach to mankind.

    Thank You And Your Friend,
    Ronald Gordon

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