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The State of American Theatre

The state of the American Theatre is a sad one. Broadway has been turned into a theme park of sorts, throwing the Lion King and Chicago in the spotlight while young contemporary playwrights can never break further than Off-Broadway. And while Monty Python’s Spamalot is quite entertaining, does it give anything back to the audience who pays $100 other than surprisingly cheap laughs? And in the meantime, dramas dealing with the human condition such as A Very Common Procedure and The Last Word are dwelling Off-Broadway, and even there they are surrounded by The Fantastiks and Stomp. The American Theatre is in a place where entertainment of what we know is put on billboards while theatre with the ability to speak to people is limited to posters tacked on light posts. While everyone is entitled to going to a Broadway musical when they visit, if that is all they allow themselves to be exposed to, then they can enjoyed laughing singing songs and laughing with friends rather than looking at the world around them and asking “what if?”.
Theatre should ideally show people the world around them as it is. People cannot dream of a better and new world without first having the actual world they live in exposed. A person living within “the bubble” can dream for a better world, but how can they specify that dream and what they want changed until they know what is wrong with the world? Walking away from a play that shows life at its grittiest and darkest hour could leave a person feeling depressed about life, or the person can look at it and say “why can’t things be different, why can’t I change the world around so others don’t have to go through that?”. People are much more impassioned through anger than happiness. Seeing a world as it could be and walking away feeling great for those people and their situation leaves a person in a state a passiveness, but seeing someone suffering and having no way out and knowing that it happens in our world has the ability to push someone to the point of wanting to make a difference. Neil LaBute said that “”Great good can come from showing great evil.” This is the reason why he shows people in bad situations, manipulating one another and not having a happy ending, because it shows what is wrong with the contemporary person and why it has to change. The one thing that can have the greatest impact on a person is allowing them to see how their decisions have affected the world around them, and if an audience member sees himself in a character on stage living the life he has lead and then getting to see how it affects people, what greater change can come. Because we have reached a point in our culture where society is so divided that societal commentary is no longer effective. If a play comments on a dominating sect of society today, there will just as great if not greater opposition as there are people who support that idea. The American playwright should rather strive for individual commentary one specific personality types, because it may not change the world, but it will change the worlds of everyone in the audience.
And isn’t that the purpose of contemporary theatre? To cause change, to make people question and ultimately decide on what they believe and who they are. The content of a story is the meat, the muscle of it, where the strength lies. The form of a play help to convey this, it is the bones of the play. But without the muscle, how can the message get across to an open-minded audience? The goal of a play should be to get the desired message across, it is the heart of the play, what gives it life. All other aspects of a play should be tools to convey the message, including the form and content. If a play has nothing to say to its audience then it should not be produced, and many times plays can lose their meaning because of hype and popularity. In its early days, even Rent. Lion King, and Grease all had something very significant to say and bring to American Theatre, but those meanings have been lost to many due to over exposure and mainstream influence. Theatre should remain fresh and growing rather than stagnant and complacent because generations of the past “got it right”.
Overall, American Theatre needs to get to a place where we desire to see fresh and new ideas and plays that have something to say. We have plenty of opportunities to see entertainment that is just funny or spectacle in films or on television, theatre should be reserved for people who want the opportunity to create something bigger, and want to cause change in people and send a message to them, rather than just give them fun little tunes to sing along with.

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