Twin Cities theater needs a boldness injection

  • Article by: BRYAN BEVELL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2012 - 8:22 AM

COMMENTARY: A local director argues that a theater of engagement may thrive only in a culture of pointed, informed criticism.

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ed_vogelAug. 12, 12 8:50 AM

I have experienced several occasions of buyer's remorse attending theater in the Twin Cities. When I pay $25 and upwards I expect the show to be fine tuned and polished. Actors that are clearly not off book and clumsy scene changes are not acceptable. Perhaps these problems parallel those of contemporary writers like Jonah Lehrer. There is an expectation for a large body of work that is difficult to fill without cutting corners.

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Kweber01Aug. 13, 1210:18 AM

Bryan speaks for a good many theater artists in this market, many of whom lament the "dumbing down" of what is presented on area stages because Boards, Artistic Directors and Directors believe that paying audiences only want to be spoon fed the same comic pablum they can find on Television or Film, or a sporting facility. These audience members are vocal and complain loudly when they aren't "Entertained" with easy to digest clowning rather than anything that makes them feel or think. There is no shortage of willing and ready actors and directors in this community that are more than capable of creating meaningful and effecting works, but they are repeatedly asked to soften, or lighten the emotionally tough stuff into safe, commercial, bland, but visually pretty productions in an effort to appeal to an uneducated and unwilling audience who repeatedly look to theater to be nothing more than an extention of TV sitcoms. The need to keep the Financial lights on in area theaters has adversly affected the artistic choices because there is the assumption that patrons won't come to anything challenging. As an Actor/Director, I agree with Bryan wholeheartedly. Until the buying public stops equating laughs and pratfalls as brilliant work, and stops complaining anytime they are asked to feel or think in a theater, this trend will not change. Pandering to those patrons for their pocketbooks, rather than garnering and catering to the audience that is out there but underserved, will ultimately be the demise of this once great theater community, and cheapens us all.

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annsypAug. 19, 12 1:31 PM

Mr. Bevell seems to have two related but distinct points: 1. Much of Twin Cities theater plays it too safe, and; 2. Much of it just isn't very good. On the whole, I agree. There are several factors at work, in my opinion. Here they are, in no particular order: The current economic climate is not conducive to taking artistic risks. A good argument could be made that there are just too many theater offerings in the Twin Cities for the audience that exists. With arts funding also on the decline (from non-government sources, at least), artistic risks are just too, well, risky. In spite of this area's reputation for great theater, overall the audience is just not very discerning and quite easily pleased. In theater, as in so many other areas, the Twin Cities is still living off the reflected glow of the 1970's without examining whether our self-satisfaction is still warranted in 2012. The local critical community, including this newspaper, treats local theater, particularly a certain dominant insitution, with kid gloves. Whether it's the subtle pressure created by direct advertising dollars, the ad dollars controlled by powerful supporters of said institutions, or the (perhaps subconscious) feeling that the critics' function is more to support local theater than to critique it, the negative review is rare---and invariably followed by the theater being given editorial space to rebut it. When the emperor is wearing no clothes, no one seems to have the courage to say so.

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JaciGugAug. 26, 1212:53 PM

A an audience member I can not help but feel offended when many of the comments speak of us as unruly sheep that are wondering to a familiar field, unwilling to follow you to promised green pastures. We are willing to go on a journey but are often, at "bold" productions, left to find our own way. We see a cast rolling on the floor and mumbling. We humbly say we don't understand and are told that that is our problem. Talk about your emperors new clothes. Just saw an "Elektra" at Stratford Shakespeare Festival that took the audience on an exhilarating, heart breaking ride. They took us along.

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