Monday, June 16, 2008

What's a play to do?

Aristotle defined tragedy as an imitation of an action. Comedy also imitates action, but Aristotle believed comic actions have different qualities and different characters to act them out. For the Greeks, an action was a movement of spirit, usually from inside to outside. (See Francis Ferguson's introduction to the Poetics for a detailed discussion of this idea.)

I use the Greek and Elizabethan plays as models for leaping off into the idea that a genuinely vital theatre for widely diverse audiences will inevitably crash collide poetry, politics and prophecy. If it wishes to do so, theatre can strike at the heart of our most volatile conflicts, cracking them open to fresh air and cleansing winds.

Is theatre actually our best and most underused tool for voyaging into conflicts that threaten to undermine society and culture? Can it help us decide whether we should crack our eggs at the small end or the large end?

Is there a plague loose in the land? Can theatre help cleanse the land? Was theatre originally designed to be a purification ritual? In its many failures to do that, can we find the key to building that better mousetrap... to catch the conscience of the King? And if we succeed, will the world beat a path to our door?

That is the hope of all theatre people... a blessed fusion of money and meaning. We continue to strive after the most effective fertility rites.

This will be an exploration of poetics... the theory of making things. A poem is a made thing. A play is a made thing. However, to make a play come alive in a theatre, then others must be willing to step into it. This is true of both traditional and experimental work. A willingness to step into a play can be triggered by either love or money, sometimes both.

And why is it that scriptures, poems and plays so often fold into and out of each other?