Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Must Read: Ideology and Theatrical Possibilty

Two, count'em two, insightful and thought-provoking essays by critic and playwright, Walter A. Davis.

The Play's the Thing [link]
"For ideology is primarily the way we regulate our relationship to ourselves and our experience. It operates habitually as that which goes without saying and therefore cannot be questioned. To do so is to exist in an anguished recognition of what existence is. Ideology is first and foremost an activity of self-censorship. The reason that fact goes undetected is that most of the time we aren't presented with material that really challenges us. It is easy to think one is radical when the material one praises as radical never really disrupts one's psychic constitution.

As Herbert Marcuse demonstrated long ago, even our tolerance is repressive. We tolerate things that reinforce the ideological economy on which our self-identity depends. We are intolerant of and censor whatever fails to conform to it. This is as true in the theatre as it is everywhere else. But in the theatre it presents itself to artists as a problem that must be overcome! That is what radical art does."

Mendacity: The Prospects of Progressive Theater Under Capitalism [link]
"My Name Is Rachel Corrie is no longer the play it was. It is now the cultural event it has become. It is what it will “signify” for the Theatre that produces it and the audiences who attend it prepared by the current controversy to experience My Name Is Rachel Corrie as the epitome of progressive, challenging, politically relevant, and experimental theatre. Such is the power of ideology as that great a priori mediator that establishes the beliefs and expectations that lead us to regard as our own the experiences it programs us to have.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie is now the Pavlovian stimulus before which vast audiences will salivate on cue so that they can leave the theatre congratulating themselves on how liberal, progressive and daring they are. A minor play will thereby further a process of commodification that makes it exceeding difficult for actually bold plays to gain a hearing."

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