Saturday, March 23, 2013

Imma Let You Finish Annie Baker: A Rant

I was surprised to receive an email from Playwrights Horizons addressing the divisiveness of Annie Baker's new play The Flick.  I noted in my review that there were walkouts but I figured it was important to point out that not everyone will like it--BUT THAT'S NOT A BAD THING (Lord knows we here at Mildly Bitter's Musings, island of misfit toy opinions, know what it is like to be the minority view on certain shows).

I appreciate that many theaters are dependent on their subscriber base to survive.  And I expect them to make business decisions that find a balance between creative endeavors and money-making ventures.  But I'd like to think those decisions are made before audiences flood the box office demanding their money back.  Reading Tim Sanford's email I was chilled by the admission that they considered shortening the three hour show in the face of the walkouts.
"Theatergoers rarely encounter three-hour plays these days even though most classic scripts from earlier ages routinely clock in well above that length. When performances began and some of you walked out at intermission, emphatically expressing your displeasure to our House Manager, we had lengthy discussions about what to do. Could we make internal cuts within the scenes or could whole scenes go? Were there places to pick up the pace? Each scene seemed to have important reasons for being there. And what about those long silences between lines?"
God forbid an audience watches a 3 hour play that isn't by the Bard.  Le sigh.  One of the things that impressed me about the work was that it was given the chance to run three hours and felt like it was moving at a different pace than we are used to seeing in theater.  I really reveled in this "indulgence" because it seemed critical to the spirit of the play and that Playwrights Horizons was offering a  playwright a chance to do this seemed truly ballsy.  Until, well, I read this email.  In the end Sanford says they chose not to make any cuts:
"But after our initial concern about walkouts, we began to pay attention to the other voices, the voices that urged Annie and Sam not to cut a second, the voices imbued with rapture for a theater experience unlike any they had experienced and for a production that stayed with them for days, even weeks afterwards. And it became clear to me that every moment of the play and production was steeped in purpose. Annie had a vision and this production beautifully executes that vision. And at the end of the day, we are a writer’s theater and my first responsibility is to that writer."
Now wait a minute.  ONLY THEN DID HE BELIEVE THAT THE PLAY AND PRODUCTION WAS STEEPED IN PURPOSE?!  That they EVEN considered it for a minute I'm stunned.  But maybe my real outrage is that they have chosen to reveal to the subscribers they considered acting on behalf of this vocal minority to change the work and now want some sort of gold star that they did not. 

For the row of people that left the night I went, the majority of the audience stayed.  Why then would you coddle or accommodate this vocal minority and give substantial credence to their complaints.  I didn't know you were listening to your audience. If so, well then where are my accommodations for the six shows over the last two seasons I didn't like.  I have seen a large number of shows at Playwrights and for every show I have liked and or loved (Completeness, Maple & Vine, The Whale), there are two I have notes for (Rapture, Blister, Burn, Detroit, The Great God Pan, Assistance, The Big Meal). 

I jest of course.  Don't listen to me Playwrights.  Jesus.  But don't listen to those other guys either.  Set your own course. Listen to your artists.  Some things will work.  Others won't.  We all want the work to connect to the audience and get the best reception but those who are not ready for Annie Baker will probably still return to see Far From Heaven--AS LONG AS STEVEN PASQUALE IS SHIRTLESS AGAIN (hint that would help on your poster--again if you're asking for my opinion).  

And most of all never apologize for your artists.  You can feel bad that not every one "got" what Baker and Gold were going for but for those who did, we really loved it, and to back away even slightly, suggesting a foul smell emanating from a 3 hour show full of silence, is going too far in the name of customer service.

I'm betting I'm kind of alone in this non-troversy.

Man I loved The Flick so much it kind of hurts. 

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