The Shock of the Neu!
There’s been much talk in the theatre blogging community of late extolling the virtues of new forms of theatre, such as the one-on-one intimate performance piece (“You Me Bum Bum Train” at the Barbican and the “One-On-One Festival” at BAC are two good examples); site-specific theatre that has left the notion of the auditorium behind and pops up anywhere and everywhere that feels right (hotel rooms, empty buildings, public toilets, etc.); and theatre that emphasizes the “new” in terms of form and presentation over everything else.
This is all well and good. In fact, it’s great. Without innovation and experimentation we would find a hardening of the arteries that would lead to a deadening stagnation to the art form as a whole, and so a constant reexamination of what we do and how we do it helps to keep theatre fresh, relevant and alive. However, there appears to be a pervading sense of “out with the old, in with the new” amidst all this chatter, which makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it makes me want to roll my eyes. Is that because I find it more than a little naive to think that the concept of traditional theatre has become antiquated and redundant? Or is it because I sense an attitude of conceitedness among so many of these proponents of a new theatre world order?
Whatever it is, and despite my professed admiration of innovation expressed above, I know that so-called “traditional” theatre does not and will not ever need to be replaced. And that’s because the fundamentals are, quite frankly, irreplaceable. Rock and roll will always be based around drums, bass and guitar. Punk came along and did an amazing job of breathing new life into a music scene that had flatlined. But what was that music essentially based on? Drums, bass and guitar. More raw, more energetic, but in truth, more basic. A return to the basics of the genre. A simple stage, a couple of actors and a good story to tell are the fundamentals of theatre. They always will be. It’s extremely healthy to play with form and presentation, but content will trump concept every time.
If you don’t believe me, just stick around a few hundred years.