Why is it still hanging on for dear life despite predictions about its demise since the advent of the moving picture?
Why are old plays performed more frequently than new plays (and given much more funding)?
Why do people get paid to call themselves “Prop Mistresses”?
Why do actors rarely use their actual props and costumes prior to the week the show opens?
Why are theatre-people afraid to hear the name Macbeth uttered before the curtain goes up?
Why does it take three people to press a button to run a lighting cue, and why can’t the one who physically touches the button see the stage?
Why do people continue to practice the art of bullshittery by calling themselves dramaturgs?
The answer to these questions, and the reason theatre is so out of touch, fighting for money, and typically not worth attending:
tra·di·tion [truh-dish-uhn] -noun
- the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice, and followed faithfully for no good reason - often to the absolute detriment of civilized society and the natural order.
By the way, if you’re thinking, “Well, the reason they do things like they always did is because certain things just work,” you are wrong. They don’t. Theatre is still dying a slow, painful death. And whether it finally passes in my lifetime or the next doesn’t remove the fact that it is this way of doing things “as they’ve always been done” that is killing it. Just because it worked before doesn’t mean it works now. If a musician insisted on selling his albums only on 8-track cassettes, he would be laughed at. If a filmmaker used equipment that was introduced at the dawn of the 20th century, his work would fail to meet the standards of a contemporary film business, and an audience accustomed to high-definition digital content with brilliant surround sound, color, contrast, and fidelity. If a poet wrote sonnets...okay, she would probably be extremely successful, but poetry is pretty awful (and not especially financially lucrative), one must admit.
Tradition is an evil killer - a plague of the world of art-making. Masterpieces are deadly illusions - we worship them in a vain attempt to pretend to be smarter and more cultured than the rest of our friends and family. I really, really, really, really don’t want to see another version of Hamlet, or Antigone, or The Glass Menagerie ever again. There is nothing important or particularly special about these works except that they are old and “were popular in their day,” which is not enough to make me care about them over the work of someone who is still living. And it is certainly not enough to make them the least bit relevant.
If a monkey with a word processor and enough paid overtime could eventually come up with the exact words of Shakespeare (yes, this is mathematically possible), you kinda sorta have to take things just a little bit less seriously.
I mean, think of it: There is a huge, ongoing controversy about who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays. What if he was actually an overweight female cyber-elf with three arms, seven microchips to replace heart and brain, and no eyes or mouth, who just so happened to get dropped in Stratford-upon-Avon by a rabid alligator stork from Outer Space as part of an ingenious plot to destroy Earth?
Which absolutely begs the question:
Was Hamlet mad, or did he just feign madness?