Having lived in an around New York City for most of my life, I am used to the questions about it from people from other states, relatives, or family friends who are interested in what they percieve to be the whirlwind of cultural activities that a young professional woman must engage in on a regular basis. Readings, plays, performances, eating at exotic restaurants and sipping chamapgne cocktails at record release parties while wearing achingly fashionable clothes and Manolo Blahniks, the ubiquitousness of which, a certain cable TV series may have slightly exaggerated.
I am loathe to tell them the truth–that my after work hours are often spent at a 7:15 “Chisel!” class at my gym, getting stoned on my friends roof, wandering around Brooklyn with my boyfriend or cooking dinner.
Yes, there was a year or two after I graduated from college where the novelty of open bars, magazine or product launch parties, and other seemingly glamorous events were still very fresh and, well, glamorous. However, there are only so many free Skyy Vodka-sponsored cocktails one can imbibe before you realize that most of the people beyond the velvet ropes of the cheesy venues these events are held at, are equally bored, and equally seeking the promised glamour of this “Exclusive” event. So a combination of getting tired of that scene, a serious relationship and a diminishing tolerance for alcohol have contributed to that increasing lame-ening of the list of activities I participate in. WIth the exception of gallery openings which I always find at least somewhat worthwhile, and music shows at smaller venues I tend to avoid all of that stuff.
When I explain this to people they sometimes seem slightly disappointed, as though I should be a more active cultural animal but they seem to understand in most cases when I describe the crowod of hangers on, the cheap, poorly mixed drink and the absurd “party photographers”. However the one thing that no one can understand, and about which I am constantly encouraged to feel shame is the fact that I never go to any theater performances of any kind, at all, ever.
“You mean never?” they gasp incredulously. “But, you live in New York!”
Truly New York is a city known for its theater. The cultural importance of something being on “Broadway” cannot be overstated, as people from outside New York imagine Broadway to be the height of metropolitan glamour and artistic sophistication. These people probably have not been subjected to bus ads screaming “CLAY AIKEN IN SPAMALOT!!” or “Elephant Man: The Musical”, but even so, theater is absurdly important to New Yorkers and people from outside the city seem to need us to feel that it is important. Even those who never, ever go to the theater will cite it as one of the main cultural reasons to live in this city. I just don’t enjoy it. With actors in a movie or on TV at least their setting is believable. To me, theater, especially musical theater is just embarrassing. All these grown men and women standing on a raised platform and pretending stuff, often without a set, without props or without costumes. The goal being, to make us feel like we are actually watching a drama unfold. I have seen some plays I liked, but only because the actor or actress was able to overcome the fact that they were standing on a wooden box pretending it was a boat/moor in Scotland/Danish castle/Italian balcony, and convince me that they understood what they were doing. It didn’t last long though, and within moments I felt the familiar empathic embarrassment I feel when I see that lady painted green and dressed like the Statue Of Liberty in the park. Maybe my mind has been diluted so much by film and TV that I need actual context, editing and locations to truly bring me into the experience. I especially hate when they talk to the audience as though they were just talking aloud to themselves. Its just silly to me and I tend to tune out.
I saw a Tony Kushner play at BAM a couple years back because my boyfriend bought me tickets for our first Valentine’s Day together. He knew that I had watched Angels in America and figured this would be a good present. Needless to say we hadn’t been together long. We had dinner together before the show where he revealed to me his skepticism.
“Yeah I mean, I don’t really like theater but I figure since you’re into it…” he shrugged.
“Oh well, yeah. I mean, I’m excited. I mean, I’m not really big into theater either but…this will be fun.”
“Oh, Thank God. I can’t deal with theater people”
There are some “theater people” who are perfectly lovely. Then there are the others, loud, per formative, clove cigarette-smoking dramatists who sign off their emails with a quote from Samuel Beckett and are about two socially-awkward steps above Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts. They stress me out and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was 4 years at the theater-person heavy Sarah Lawrence. Or maybe its just don’t respond well to grown ups pretending something is happening that isn’t, and asking me to pay to indulge them.
We did have a good time and I must say enjoyed the play but more for Mr. Kushner’s wonderful writing skills than for the “performance” happening on stage. I think my disdain is tied somewhat to the “stage voices” the actors use. All of these people yelling but behaving as though they are speaking in their nromal voice. Everything is so exaggerated from volume to gesture to each and every personal quality the actors are so desperate to express.
I know how unpopular my opinion is, and I know too how uncultured I sound but I cannot help it. A friend of mine is into theater and often does plays in an around New York City which I have attended because I do beleive in supporting her, but I just dont know how Im supposed to react or what to say. Especially experimental theater. I just don’t understand what Im supposed to be understanding.
I love the visual arts, I love writing and poetry and music. I just cant really get down with the performing arts as such, unless its like a concert or something like that which happens to have a lot of theatrics to it.
I would welcome the advice of any readers who can help me to understand and embrace theater instead of rolling my eyes at it, in all its forms.
Oh, but I do like The Crucible.