The Heart of Failure and Promise

The Heart of Failure and Promise


Theatre has become as stale as our language, our lives. We use the word “seasons” in theater in the same fashion we use the word holiday as replacement for Holy Day.

Christmas is now the Xmas season. We acquiesce unknowingly. X-ing out the abstinent Christ with the Santa bag of toys. That merry, merry tidings-of-comfort-and-joy time that produces more suicides than any other.

Once was the earlier pagan ritual celebrating the winter solstice. Theatre was born within such a place and time. Newborn hope and promise of the renewing cycle sheltered within a manger, surrounded only by witnessing nature and a few select wise men. Theatre would be such a pilgrimage of wise men following their star into the night of a distant land.

Bah-humbug! It’s time to pay the rent. So theatre “seasons” are built around the adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. No surprise that this cash cow has insidiously become a kind of sacred cow to the bottom line of most regional theatres. And all the Brave New Works that the pandering Christmas Carol was meant to support are instead proving themselves true bastard offspring. Playwrights’ texts also acquiesce unknowingly. X-ing out all but the bag of toys, adapting to the market in a perpetual workshop of their text into a product ready to be launched.

Nowadays the King’s Men need only to cater to the groundlings for sustenance at Broadway and other venues. The regional theatres are incorporated as not-for-profit, yet their true king is related to the same bottom line and commodity exchange as that of commercial producers. So the theatres find themselves in a compromising position to their missions, all of which emphasize service to artistic health of the region and “the community.”

Regional theatre choses productions to keep and build the subscriber audience who buys the season ticket. Neither truly box office nor community, this audience is an odd breed of groundling who has taken on the airs of patron. Aging out of existence but still catered to as if he were king, Pantolone, his money pouch hanging limpless beside his genitals, waddles into his box seat at Geezer Theatre.

commedia carol Geezer: an old fart-some harmless, toothless, witless, pointless guy the world passed by a long, long time ago; and who knows it, and who has kind of stopped trying. Except that Old Fart is a solitary condition, while Geezer is a group identity. Where there is one, there will be many. Geezers gaggle in geezer groups, gabbing the geezer credo that the world is out of step, and that the geezer is its lost and proper center. For every geezer is at heart the Old Pretender-feckless and vengeful, nostalgic, deceitful and vain.

Now it is surely no surprise that a theatre which has sold itself almost exclusively to geezers should have become a Geezer Theatre. Each year, as TCG balefully notes, the Geezer Theatre’s subscription audience gets another year older. But the looming actuarial crisis is nothing next to the soul death of a theatre which, in pandering to the geezer, has itself become a geezer. Impotent, truculent, and profoundly self-satisfied, the Geezer Theatre doesn’t really mind that at this point it is talking largely to itself.


We strive to make our audience synonymous with community. Yet for a community of limited means, roles become reversible within the partnership, and theatre in a real sense becomes the patron. Theatre is first and foremost a gift. The theatre citizen has chosen a life in theatre over a career in theatre.

Fellow peers engaged in the creation of theatre become the truest audience, like the spouse who witnesses in personal detail the struggles of our life. We are an ethical as much as an aesthetic enterprise. We rehearse our “to be or not to be” not in order to better act on stage, but to better live within our community.

We summon our audience one by one in the same way we invite our friends, family, and neighbors to a barbecue. We cook and prepare our theater in the same manner as we host and share our homemade meals.

We are the Potlatch gathering of an ageless tribe.


Audience is this creative accident of one’s life and time on earth. As I age my significant others begin to die off. Yet my dead parents and others remain my primary audience, full subscribers, partners in the attempted articulations of this flesh.

As I climb onto the stage as priest/victim up the side of the pyramid, the rehearsed breath readies its speak. Wet word poised as deed on the lusty lip. I seek the tongue-tied Word as Flesh. I wish not to be understood, but known. I meet my four peers at the summit where we become one with the fifth. The fifth is always there, never there. As element, as god, as the theatre of our making.

Carved from its captivity, the still beating heart is raised high. The groundlings stand in awe. But they are not the audience. My parents’ parents have risen up within the blood of my raised heart. And the Seventh Generation has gathered just beyond the living to witness Deeds, the Doer, and Words, the Speaker.

I am here for you, my love, as always.


This post is part of a Theatre Think Tank initiative. Please read the related posts by other participants in today’s effort. I’ll list below the other blogs posts on “the value of theatre” as I read them:

An Angry White Guy in Chicago
Theatre Ideas
Theatre Is Territory
The Next Stage
Bite and Smile by Joe Janes
A Rhinestone World
That Sounds Cool
On Theatre and Politics – Matthew Freeman
Never Trust Your Pet With the Devil Vet
Theatre For The Future
Mike Daisey
steve on broadway
Jay Raskolnikov — half hillbilly, Demi-Culture
The Mission Paradox Blog
GreyZelda Land
Que j’ai rêvé
Midnight Honesty at Noon
Carmi Neighborhood Watch 

2 thoughts on “The Heart of Failure and Promise

  1. Nick, you are a Jeremiah…and yet no bullfrog…and I hope a good friend of mine. (with a nod to Three Dog Night) We need screeds like that, a thousand more like that, and more than that, we need action. Courage and action. Did you see or read Eduardo Machado’s speech to ART/NY last year? Absolutely thrilling. Truth must be spoken and spoken and spoken again. And, for those who didn’t listen, slaps. Gentlemanly ones, with gloves, but slaps nevertheless.

  2. Hey Trav, sorry I have been so tardy with a reply. I’ve been in production meetings this last week for our new play. Thanks for praise and I’m definitely with you on need for action. I hadn’t heard or read Eduardo Machado’s speech. He’s right on except his misstatement on My Name is Rachel. Read the speech here, with a short NYTW rebuttal at the bottom.

    “Which leads me to the biggest headache from the biggest wall that I have walked into every day for the last two years. The language and bureaucracy of grant giving on the part of both corporations and foundations, New York City and State. Their insistence on a for-profit model is really at the heart of our problem. We’re back in the land of The Bald Soprano.

    “We must all fight against this. Non profits theatres should not sell tickets for a hundred dollars a seat. That’s criminal. How are we ever going to find a new vital audience at those prices? Even sixty five to forty-five is unrealistic. Not everyone has a trust fund. Not everyone in New York City is rich. The audience we’re missing can barely afford 20 dollars. But if we gave them a reason to, they’d get the money together. I did.

    “We have given into the worst kind of greed. The corporate model. And I’m sorry but our work has suffered because of it.”

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