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Jes' sittin' on the ol' theater front porch

September 1999

In a small town nearby, there is an equally small theater run by a fairly well-known actor who chooses to spend his time and money this way. Mind you, I do think that's a laudable way for him to do so, since it's pretty probable that there wouldn't be anything like a theater of that caliber in that small town without someone with money deciding to make a pet project of it. I'll even forgive him the fact that it has a very marked tendency to do productions of his own plays. If I were in such a situation, it might very well be that the same thing would happen. There are, after all, some temptations that are too much for the human fabric.

Be all that as it may, there's a really delightful quality about the place. On a show night, theaudience tends to gather, quite literally, on the front stoop. There are friends greeting friends, folks chatting about this and that, or even just taking the air. It's a summer theater, and the air tends to be pretty nice of an evening under the very fine shade trees out in front of the place, and the feeling is fine. No existential angst, no brooding malaise, no urban edgy tone, no motivated political anger, no urgent messaging. Just a group of people getting together to take in the artistic offerings of another group of people, and nobody taking themselves with high holy seriousness. Not that high holy seriousness is frowned upon in this neck of the woods; far from it. High holy seriousness is almost a profession in the academe, non-profits, and governmental organizations in the region. But it fails to penetrate here, for reasons not immediately evident.

Could it not be that there is a lesson here? For all the effort, energy, blood, sweat, tears, passion, brains, brawn, lumber, greasepaint, breath and body poured into the theaters of the world over the centuries, it still remains to be done. Each day's performance is just as delicate an endeavor as yesterday's, thousands of years of theatrical history notwithstanding. There are those who believe that the theater has never had any effect on society; there are those who believe it has been and is always profoundly revolutionary; there are those who do not care about the social effect, but note that correctly handled, it can on occasion profoundly effect their bank balances, usually in a negative way, but temptingly otherwise on occasion. So perhaps it really is a thing not to be brooded over, not to be shouted about, not to be done in frenzy or madness or valorĪbut just to be done, as sitting on a front stoop is done, with the consciousness somewhere in mind that it has been done before, and will be done again, right many a time and for right many a year.

So let us not condescend to the denizens of the front stoop of this small, rural, relaxed theater and its owner and company. Let us rather, like them, take time out to relax ourselves, to remember that our high messages, our mordant wit, our stunning images will float out into the air and dissipate, save for the neuronal traces left in the cortexes of the members of our audience. Let us remember that they to, as indeed we too, will get up in the morning and have a cup of coffee, and the world will still be turning, no matter how brilliant we were last night, or how bad. We of course owe it to ourselves and our audiences to be brilliant as often as possible, but brilliance does not require inflation, particularly not self-inflation, a disease to which we stage folk have a certain susceptibility and a definite genetic predisposition.

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