Before we start discussing ways to create a new system, there is actually something you have to do before we begin. It is a foundational attitude necessary to begin your journey.
Basically, you have to forget everything you think you know about theatre. Let me explain.
Remember the beginning of Dorothy’s journey in The Wizard of Oz, when she is instructed to “follow the yellow brick road”? Her first steps on that journey actually take her in a spiral, not a straight line. Had she stopped after the first few steps, she would have found that she was facing in the opposite direction from where she ultimately wanted to go! But it was necessary for her to walk in a circle to shake off her natural sense of direction (Kansas is all about straight lines, right?) and open herself to a new approach.
That’s what I’m asking you to do, too.
To start your journey, you have to forget everything you think you know about how theater is made, what it looks like, and who is there. You have to abandon your preconceptions and assumptions. Only then will you be able to consider your creative life afresh.
Sociologists refer to these underlying assumptions as “doxa,” the ideas that are “given,” that “go without saying.” They are the ideas that we absorb during our creative life that seem unquestionable, but they are also “single stories” that may be standing in the way of your following your creative path.
- If you think that theater needs to be done in special buildings—forget that.
- If you think that theater requires sets, lights, costumes, even multiple actors—forget that.
- If you think that theater needs to be done in front of a particular audience—forget that.
- If you think theater needs tickets and a box office—forget that.
- If you think that theater needs a text—forget that.
- If you think that theater needs to be nonprofit—forget that.
- If you think that the goal of doing theater is fame—forget that. (Especially forget that.)
All of these things may or may not be true—or, at least, true for you—but they must be examined and consciously chosen, not inherited without examination. The economist E. F. Schumacher, in his book Small Is Beautiful, wrote “All through our youth and adolescence, before the conscious and critical mind begins to act as a sort of censor and guardian at the threshold, ideas seep into our mind, vast hosts and multitudes of them. These years are, one might say, our Dark Ages during which we are nothing but inheritors: it is only in later years that we can gradually learn to sort out our inheritance.”
In my experience, the Dark Ages for theater people extend far beyond youth and adolescence. Ideas about theatre careers and how theatre is done is constantly hammered into us by our teachers, by other theater artists, by the stories told in the media. Eventually, we come to believe TINA: There Is No Alternative.
But there are alternatives—we’ve just forgotten them. Or more likely, we were never told.
So put your preconceptions into a box for the moment. Leave yourself a note where you put them, because we’ll be returning to them later. But for now, begin with a blank(ish) slate. You might hold onto the Peter Brooks quotation I mentioned a while back: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”