Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Ruminations On Nothing Much

So I feel like I should toss my hat in the geographicism discussion that continues to unfold over at Theatre Ideas. I am a long-time native Iowan, after all, and it looks like Joshua James, the other vocal Hawkeye State representative, has been sent to the penalty box for roughing or icing or something like that -- hockey's never really been my sport. Not to mention I was a very present part of the opening arguments, back when the world (I don't want to hear it; I'll hyperbolize if I feel like it) was turning a blind eye to the fact that Scott's ideas of geographicism might hold some water, much less be an actual problem.

But now we're talking about fighting the process and active non-geographicism and my involvement suddenly takes a big dip. According to Scott's evocation of Beverly Daniel Tatum's definition, I am becoming a participant in passive geographicism. That sounds like a bad thing, but I think the ring of the words is worse than the meaning behind them. Passive any-ism is not an ideal, but outside of my own sphere of engagement, I tend to be a laissez faire personality. Confront me with acts of racism, sexism, ageism, etc., against any party and I'll call you on that shit. Do it on your own time and, while I don't approve, I will not change my path to stop you. And yet again, I've managed to set myself up as a major dick. But I question the all-inclusiveness of the term 'passive -ism' to include both those who allow the natural course to cruise by while their wear their blinders and those who watch the natural course go by with notebook in hand. Not that either provides a better outcome.

Of course, this is also the guy who refuses to play the political game as well. I'm one of those few jerks who refuses to vote on principle. I wash my hands of the whole mess that is humankind, instead focusing my personal crusades on myself and those I come into contact with. And that, to my credit (finally!), is not as isolated and detached as it sounds, because I come into contact with a lot of people. Everyone else I just observe, which I like to think that is helpful in my ability to comment on the world and the people within from an artistic standpoint.

Great, now I'm a pretentious asshole.

If I'm here to better anyone's earthly experience through my daily choices, it's those that I know and love. And myself. And that's not exorbitantly selfish, just exorbitantly straightforward. My art? I certainly hope that it betters the earthly experience of a wide net of people outside my sphere. But that's not for me to plan. And that line of thought will continue in the next post, the one I should've named "The Art of Fucking It Up".

To finish somewhat on subject: I went back and skimmed some of my past work to see if I could detect any sense of latent geographicism against any region. I realized, and it was kind of a shock that I hadn't realized this before, that I have never written a location specific piece. And pushing it even further, I've never written a race specific character and a good deal of my characters are neither age nor gender specific. I don't exactly know what that says about me and my process and the goals of my work, good or bad or (as I suspect) a little of both, but on the plus side, I can't be geographically prejudiced if I fail to specify regionality, can I?



Joshua James said...

Hey Paul,

Just thought I'd let you know, not only am I from Iowa, quite a bit of my work is set in Iowa (and Nebraska) and has been seen on New York stages . . . not just that (I also have work set in Chicago) but in many places, but there's definitely an Iowa flavor to my work.

Scott's just frigging nuts . . .

GreyZelda said...

I went to visit Theatre Ideas after reading your blog ... sheesh. So much talking but it's going nowhere. I think the "blogosphere" can be a great thing and it's lovely that there's a place to discuss whatever's getting someone's panties up in a wad, but ... there's not a whole bunch of give and take. If these blogs and the ensuing discussions were a scene in the play, it would get really stagnant after a while.

We did a production of "Desire Under the Elms" and we set it in "anyplace" as opposed to setting it in O'Neill's New England. Chris, the director, wanted to do that because a lot of us had come from a variety of rural settings - he's from West Virginia, I'm from farm country Michigan and the woman who played Abbie is from southern Ohio. In our program, we all talked about our memories from living on a farm. Chris was the only one who mentioned his location specifically and, again, it didn't have anything to do with the setting of the play, just some memories we wanted to share pre-show. A few of the reviewers who came to see the show really jumped on Chris's "West Virginian, Appalachian" roots and mentioned that in their reviews even though we very firmly set it in "any place, America."

Quite honestly, it was more taken directly from my Michigan farm upbringing as far as the clothes and habits went and there was no set "accent" making it "Appalachian" so that was purely her. The actors were just following O'Neill's specific dialogue writing, which does make it "rural". "H'ain't" is all over the place in his writing.

He's a proud West Virginian, by god, but he's definitely received a consistent vibe from certain people because of his homestate. He's definitely not one to cry "victim" however and we actually kind of laugh about it and shake our heads in amusement, but ... there's something underneath that does smart a little bit so I can understand where Scott is coming from on the gut-level. All the other words and arguments kind of cloud his meaning, though, and the discussion has taken a serious detour.


GreyZelda said...

"Purely their's" instead of "purely hers". Sorry about that.

GreyZelda said...

Oops, I went back to look at our program ... Chris did keep the setting to "A New England Farmhouse" but we put it at "Anytime." (Giving myself a "Tsk, tsk".)

Let me change my point a little then: Chris directed his actors to follow the dialogue that O'Neill wrote. Some of the reviewers decided to put their views of "West Virginia" and "Appalachia", wrongly, on top of it.

Paul Rekk said...

Maybe I'm just uninformed about the Eastern seaboard (which, believe me, is entirely a possibility), but is West Virginia considered a part of New England?

To me, the implied connection between West Virginny (jesus, did I just break that out in this of all conversations? honest to god, it's just one of those phrasings that my mouth, and apparently my mind, enjoys forming -- no underlying West Virginia slurs intended) and a show stated to be set in New England is even more unusual than one without a stated locations.

But I'm throwing the ball back in your court, because I really have very little knowledge about the area.

GreyZelda said...

Not at all ... it's almost considered "south" and only became a part of the "Northern" states during the Civil War when it broke away from the confederacy.

That's why the "West Virginian" connections to "Desire Under the Elms" by the critics really threw us for a loop ... they simply put that stuff into the reviews because of Chris's bio and the farm memories he wrote about. It has nothing to do with O'Neill's plays or his direction at all. A few of them just couldn't disconnect Chris's roots from the play.

GreyZelda said...

I'm double posting a lot here because my writing is coming across as "distracted" ... West Virginia is in between Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio. It's considered a part of the Appalachian Mountain chain states and is right at the Mason/Dixie line.

Chris didn't set the play in West Virginia and had the actors follow O'Neill's written dialect to a tee. As I said before, the program stated that we kept it in New England but reviewers brought up West Virginia for no good reason other than the fact the Chris was born and raised there, mentioned in his bio and farm memories and I attended school there which kind of proves a point in the discussion of "art vs. artist" ... some people can't separate the two very well.

Hopefully, I'm making sense ... I've been a bit of a multitasker today.

Adam said...

I also am not able to do site specific stuff. Not sure why. I have written some plays with specific locations but they don't really always bear a resembelance to said locations. I'm not very connected to place personally. My family used to make fun of me for not being aware of my surroundings.

But I'm a hear the voices kind of playwright. Perhaps you are too.