Culture isn’t what it used to be. Thank goodness. But it isn’t like the old archaic forms of expression aren’t putting up a battle. But they are soon to be history and are only able to maintain the illusion that they are still relevant by the loyalty of old money and old bodies. Without the tiresome habits of network TV watchers, MFA program promises, broadcast radio, producers of tedious monstrosities called “the full length play”, record company contract serfs, art gallery wine and cheese parties, chapbook poetry writers, and formula special effects vehicles we call movies.
They all pretend not to notice the future digging the graves for past genres, even as they jump into the hole to help them. These are the people who cannot change, so of course, pretend nothing has changed. As long as there are enough gurgling incontinent season ticket buyers and nostalgic sponsors, it pays to milk the game to the end while emerging culture can be snubbed as a side show staged by impudent upstarts.
But its not like cultural investors haven’t hedged their bets by buying into the new technology. They’re just not conveying the mantle of culture to the unworthy till an institution can dominate it. That doesn’t mean the originators and developers will not have made their mark over a 30 year period. It just means they will be coopted by the same opportunists who threw up roadblocks to progress until they could dominate the new forms.
Its hard work pretending not to notice what is staring you in the face. No one goes out anymore to listen to poets read out of notebooks except their friends and other poets waiting their turn. Its boring listening to talking podiums read what you can read for yourself at home off the internet, while smoking or drinking whatever you want in the comfort of easy chairs and consumer electronics. The loyalists sneered at the performance movement called slam poetry while that movement itself is being pressured for even more cultural change to stay relevant on the edge.
This change is not a distant glow and low rumbling, open to interpretation about what it is and when it will arrive. No, change has been screaming and yelling on the front porch, pounding its fists on the door to be let in for quite some time. The ruse of being unaware of this unwanted visitor is belied by the barring of the door and directing the old school to enter thru the back door, as if it were the new front door. As if the reaper wasn’t forcing a game change fast enough by himself, the price of this exercise in futility keeps skyrocketing. Its like, demand falls off so you double the price for customers who are getting poorer and poorer.
Alright, I have a personal agenda and contempt for tribal snobs. In addition to kicking slam poetry up a notch and replacing both studio movies and network TV with an expanding (and cheap) internet scene and satellite TV, I have a long standing grudge against full length play based theater and all the class pretense that goes along with it. Yes, I know there used to be a counter theater. But that was then. This is now. Sitting through a full length isolated-from-current-issues-play is cultural waterboarding plus tasers.
Live theater as we know it is dead. As soon as life support becomes too expensive for the survivors to maintain this pointless illusion, the plug will be pulled. Make no mistake about it. Video and internet productions increasingly outstrip the four-wall rituals we call theater. So is there no hope for live theater? Yes there is. But first, we must assume the American Theater phantasm is only perpetuated by brain eating pundit zombies, academic whores producing MFA programs, sponsor sell-outs, and class traitors. Having eliminated this part of the problem the solution is obvious.
Remember, the average person, and many above average people, are perfectly happy with sitting at home in their 1500 dollar easy chairs, in their underwear, drinking their favorite cold beer at store prices, watching their gas plasmas with killer sound systems on broad band cable and satellite TV, as the internet belches forth millions of classic, free, or low cost offerings that they can talk about, or not, on hundreds of culturally related sites. The soon to be extinct cultural gatekeepers think this is irrelevant. This comment is based on long and painful personal experience.
I propose a new model for live performance that will not be based on a dying past. The model is split between salons and venues. The salons are close knit associations of compatible artists and writers who perform and interact with their peers. Participation is by invitation only. The purpose of a salon is not primarily entertainment. It is cultural interaction between peers. This should be the first exposure of new work, not institutional endorsement after admission by gatekeepers.
The model for public theatre venues is more aggressive. It assumes that plays should be fringe festival length – not over one hour. Other cultural forms will have to fill the evening out – music, stand up, skits, or group raps or slams. If serious food is not next door, an appealing menu must be part of the venue. The nite out will be one stop or not at all. Real time streaming to the web and chat will be a must for the under 50 crowd.
Ideally, the food/alcohol component of the venue will also serve as an after event discussion forum. Think: absurdism, surrealism, true performance slam forms, That is, if we are serious about getting people out for live cultural events. These after hours soirees will be the democratic replacement for self serving theatre boards and grant fed institutions.
This is what is necessary to hold on to the live community part of cultural expression. Most forms of expression, globally and locally, will be on the internet or satellite. That is a given. The big question that few people are asking is “are we going to do what is necessary to keep the face to face part of cultural alive and relevant.”