Love The Art, Hate The Artist?

Society - particularly American society - loves to demonize or to “other” art and artists.

We deride people who create:

  • Oh, you’re an artist? You’re one of those.”

  • Oh, you’re a writer? I wish I could sit at home all day.”

  • Oh, you’re an actor? You must love starving.”

These are of course specific examples using common ideas and tropes, but these kinds of reactions are common and probably sound familiar to you.

We tell people who want to go into the arts:

  • Why would you to throw your life away?”

  • But you have so much potential!”

  • But there’s no money in the arts!”

Being a creator is clearly seen as being *less than,* but why? Less than what? Why would we consider becoming an artist or writer or performer or designer a path that is throwing your life away or not using your skills and talents?

Well, Capitalism.

But this type of thinking and behavior not only can be unlearned, but it needs to be unlearned. Art and the products of creation are everywhere, but we’ve been conditioned to have a blind spot for most of it, and what we do see we are told to feel contempt for. Let’s just see how pervasive art is, shall we?

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It's Critical!

Lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of people - friends and strangers alike - have been saying something very similar to me as a I talk about productions, performances, or people that I’ve recently seen onstage.

As I’m giving my solicited opinion and actively formulating my thoughts, people keep stopping me to say things like:

  • You’re choosing your words very carefully.

  • You can just say what you mean to me.

  • You’re trying to be so [nice/PC/positive].

This got me thinking about how we, as artists and audience alike, deal with the art of criticism/critique/opinion. I’ll also admit that I recently listened to two interviews with high-profile theatre critics - both of which bothered me in very different and specific ways that I won’t go into here - so this topic hasn’t been far from my mind.

And after last week’s blog post, which was a semi-review of Hadestown, I got a lot of comments from people online and in person that basically said “Thank you for focusing on the good.”

But isn’t this how we should be talking about art?

All of those things above that people have said to me made me react the same way:

No no no, I am saying what I mean, which is why I’m choosing my words so carefully.” And as for positivity, I think that is important to bear in mind as we critique - why focus on only the negative?

So, what is the best way to give theatrical criticism?

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As We Stumble Along...

This week I had the pleasure of being part of the first NYC externship for my Alma Mater’s brand new, and now fully developed, Musical Theater Program. I had the chance to work with some lovely SUNY Geneseo Juniors and Seniors in a new musical theatre workshop - an entirely new experience for all of them - and attended the first ever Senior Showcase. The talent was wonderful, the interactions were lovely, and the entire experience got me thinking…a dangerous pastime, I know.

As a part of the workshop I had to essentially explain to the students who I am, what I do, how that’s relevant to Geneseo, and how I got to where I am. And you know what? That was much more difficult than I expected.

At this moment in my career, these are the titles that I can, and generally do, give myself:

Composer-Lyricist/Librettist (technically 3 titles?)

Performer (Musical and non-Musical Theatre)

Musical Director

Vocal Coach

Accompanist (I do this less often)

Arranger/Orchestrator (though mostly my own material these days)

One of the Geneseo students said “You do so much!” and I guess that’s true. But I think the better question is, how the heck did I learn to do all of these things?

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Medea Must Have Been An Artist

Allow me to explain.

In the art world - and particularly for musical theatre writers - we are often told that we need to be prepared to “kill our babies.” Obviously this is not meant in a literal sense. ‘Cause that would be bad. Very bad.

For non-theatre or non-artist folks, this idea might be a bit confusing. What is meant by this?

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There's A Place For Us...

I was at a networking event earlier this week and got into a conversation - one that I’ve had countless times with theatre professionals and audience members alike - where the central questions are:

Should Broadway shows be about the art or the money?”

Is there a place on Broadway for shows that are only light and feel-good? What about dark, depressing shows?”

How do you expect to get new audiences if all shows look, feel, or sound alike?”

Now, I don’t find the mere asking of these questions to be problematic, but I do find the heart of this oft-had conversation to be problematic. Whichever side you fall on - and yes, there do ultimately seem to end up being two sides to this conversation - there is an insinuation that one type of theatre should exist on Broadway and another type should not.

But my big question is: Why?

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"Get Your Education, Don't Forget From Whence You Came"

Lin-Manuel Miranda has often spoken about origins: His own, his family’s, his musicals’, Alexander Hamilton’s, etc. He has written about them in lyrics, including the one above from “Alexander Hamilton” and his well-noted “we were that kid” rap in the 2013 Tony Awards opening number: “Bigger.” It’s a common theme of his interviews, whether he is the interviewee or the interviewer. Clearly Mr. Miranda seems to think our origins are important.

And I agree.

Particularly when it comes to the arts and educating young people. I firmly believe that our experiences and exposures as children have an incredible and lasting impact on how we interact with art for the remainder of our lives. And this includes formal and informal educations, extracurricular activities, time experiencing art with family and friends, exposure to all forms of entertainment, financial abilities, general access, community practices, and much much more. Every experience in life involves art in some way, and every exposure is another puzzle piece in a child’s education.

So how do we best serve young people? What kind of education do they need or should they have? What if some want to pursue the arts and others just want to enjoy them? What about those who have fewer resources available or greatly reduced ability to access art? Where does it all begin?

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Shut That Window 'Cause...

…it’s getting DRAFTY IN HERE!!

Yes, okay, I hate myself just a little bit for that one too. But I thought it was cute. Anywho…

Today I want to talk about the [grueling] process that is drafting. And I don’t mean in a graphic design sense (drawing is not a strength of mine). I mean it more in the sense of: sitting down to write a thing that you’ve been thinking about for a long time and have really wanted to write but haven’t had the time and/or motivation to do so but you’ve finally found the time or at least have now cleaned the entire apartment four times and done your taxes and solved world hunger so I guess now there’s nothing left to do but actually write the thing which you should want to write anyway since it’s your passion and you chose to do this with your life so why are you stalling oh wait Facebook is calling and oh look that rhymed and so I can get into a pointless argument with someone whose face I can’t see instead of forcing terrible first draft dialogue on unwitting characters oh wait they blocked me so I guess I really do have to write now. Darn.

You know. That kind of a sense.

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