NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
In Anklam his unconventional productions troubled the East German police, the Stasi, from the beginning. His first production, Othello, was played in semi-darkness, with the dialogue reduced to scattered half-heard mutterings in English. The production attracted the close attention and the condemnation of the Stasi, whose secret reports complained that it was equally offensive “to Shakespeare and to the public,” that it “deprived the play of all human values,” and, most damning, that it “undermined socialist cultural politics” by emphasizing “the impossibility of communications along with a blighted view of humanity.”
-Marvin Carlson, Theatre Is More Beautiful than War
It’s the line “offensive ‘to Shakespeare and to the public'” that is most striking to me. I’m not saying that I want the secret police to be all up in my theaters. I don’t; the above passage, from Carlson’s overview of deconstructionist theater director Frank Castorf, is a relic from an era of repression, censorship, and fear. But it’s also from an era where theater and art mattered heroically. To the Germans especially, who see supporting the arts as to be responsibility of the state, the stature of Shakespeare was something worth defending, with dirty tactics if necessary.
In this time of furious presidential campaign news, I can’t help imagining the America where Hillary’s publicly released emails bitch about the offerings of the D.C. theater scene, or a news flash alerts us to The Donald calling Anna Deavere-Smith an idiot and Sam Shepard a winner (he would totally like Sam Shepard). I’d actually love to read about Jeb backpedaling on accidentally saying he didn’t like August: Osage County.
Our politicians don’t know a proscenium from a prostate. This may not be bad. What’s definitely true is that our theater is not an engine of the state, nor does it have the power to seriously affect public opinion. Public opinion moves too quickly now. Policy is dictated by the catchiest 140 characters. What politician could justify taking the time to sit down with Three by Tennessee, much less Faust?
But the next necessary question becomes: with theater freed from the presence of politicians, is it possible that it can ever be an engine of revolt again?