I hate Simon and Garfunkel. And for one reason alone: there’s a line in “The Dangling Conversation” from 1966 that won’t stop bothering me, and that is – cue ambient music, floaty voices – “Is the theater really dead?”
The sad truth is that, probably unlike the wholesome, folksome duo, I worry about this question semi-constantly. And to what end? Who cares?
The conclusion that I have recently reached in the isolation of the continental European performance scene is that it’s not Youtube or Iphone apps that are killing the theatre. The real threat is ‘performance’.
Because the term is still so vague, it’s easy for artists to classify themselves as such. And for many, this is an easy way to avoid expectations and standards, as there are fewer traditions to deal with. So even if it’s basically theatre with a narrative and characters, it will still be called ‘performance’.
Yet the terms used are not nearly as important as the actual material of the work being shown. One trend in this ‘performance’ era is toward less fixed, more improvised language, frequently resulting in lower-quality texts. Is it just part of a general trend away from formalism and toward more linguistic flexibility? After all, I don’t want to be an alarmist.
To be sure, beautiful, well-constructed English still exists, even in performance – it just tends to show up in slam poetry instead of theatre. Point being, I don’t care if it’s called theatre or performance or poetic experience – I’d just like to see more shows with a considered and aesthetically intriguing text.
This is one of the reasons I chose to participate on the judges panel for the English Theatre Berlin’s first 10-Minute Play Contest and why I’m happy that they’ve made it an ongoing series.
The current theme is “The First Time”. It’s admittedly vague but hopefully inspires some compelling narratives.
Ten minutes can seem limiting in terms of artistic expression, which is why I prefer to see this form as a platform for experimentation. Which types of language suit which characters, which stories, which theatrical techniques?
Entries will be judged by a panel of theatre professionals, and the five finalists will be staged in the spring.