We live in a world that is constantly changing. Where does theatre fit in, and how will current social movements affect the future of live performance? I invited some of the PlayGround writers currently working on full-length commissions or co-productions to share their insights on the matter.
Playwrights Jonathan Luskin (Ecce Homo), Katie May (Manic Pixie Dream Girl or The Lily Chronicles Issue #1) and Mandy Hodge Rizvi (Drive Thru-Open till Midnite or Later) are working on their first PlayGround full-length commissions. Daniel Heath and Evelyn Jean Pine are each currently working on their third PlayGround commission, Siren and Altair, respectively. Ken Slattery is preparing for the world premiere co-production of Truffaldino Says No at Shotgun Players this June and is also under commission for his new play, The Shakespeare Bug. Other upcoming co-productions include Lauren Yee’s Crevice at Impact Theatre in May and Kenn Rabin’s Reunion at SF Playhouse Stage 2 in June. Trevor Allen is currently working on his fourth PlayGround commission, Valley of Sand, a co-commission with San Jose Rep.
How is theatre changing and where do you see it going in the next 5-10 years?
Ken Slattery: This is a difficult question to address, as I think theatre reacts to societal change, so attempting to answer this question is like trying to predict how society, the country, or the world will change over the next 5-10 years.
Mandy Hodge Rizvi: Many theatres and theatre artists are looking for ways to incorporate technology, media, global consciousness, and social networking into their art and their business. I also see a renewed sense of responsibility, relevancy, and accountability.
Lauren Yee: I see playwrights dabbling in more genres and mediums more and more easily. TV writing has become an extremely popular, gratifying medium for a lot of playwrights, and I think that as the cost of producing high-quality multimedia work goes down, we'll see more web-based work. Already theaters are investing more heavily in producing multimedia online that complements their onstage work.
How does technology play into the future of theatre?
Jonathan Luskin: Theater will have to embrace distribution through video and the Internet. Theater will be “saved” not by massive non-profit donor campaigns but by becoming relevant to a new generation of audiences who may experience “live:” performance first over the internet.
What about the live performance qualities that have always characterized the theatre experience? How will this shift in technology affect theatre as we know it?
Katie May: I think theater is getting better at justifying itself as theater. Meaning, I think playwrights are getting better at playing with the relationship between the storytellers and the audience, and are really capitalizing on the amazing qualities of theater that can only be done in this form. I think this is incredibly important to the future of theater arts, because to me saying that “theater is important because live performance is important” doesn’t quite cut it. I do think as theater artists we need to justify the existence of our form and write pieces that work best as theater and not film.
Evelyn Jean Pine: In our age of snapping pictures from phones, having archives of millions of voice mails, documenting our daily lives on social networks, recording the hi-jinks of congressmen, debutantes, and honey badgers, theatre’s “in the moment” quality becomes extremely charismatic. That’s not to say theatre-makers won’t use and engage all the technology at our disposal, we do and we will, but always in support of the living moment, the daily myth, the waking dream.
Mandy: The last ten years have scared the bejesus out of the theatre community. The harsh wake-up call from business as usual has asked us all to reevaluate the state of our art and to decide how it will move forward. This means looking at where we are now and planning for the future, while remaining ever open to change. As a writer, I’m always asking myself, “What matters now?” This means being active and informed and listening to a lot of different voices that I may or may not agree with. I think that openness is the key to success, both in and out of the theatre.
Daniel Heath: The audience is shifting, and theater will adapt and serve the tastes of new generations. It will adapt not because it must but because that is what theatre does – it is people putting on a show for other people who want to see it. And there will always be people who want to perform and people who want to be entertained. The new media that is transforming entertainment is not destroying that fundamental dynamic, it's just changing the landscape on which it plays itself out.
Ken: I think theatre thrives on change; it’s essential to its nature. No matter what happens, theatre will always have a place in our society, holding a mirror up to our virtues and our faults.
Kenn Rabin: Theatre will always exist, whether it’s in a garage or on top of a mountain, in a play done outdoors in a park, or in the gymnasium of a school. Stories acted out, live, in front of an audience – that form – is imprinted now on our DNA, and it won’t be taken away.