We like to have fun here at The Aviary, as verbose and pretentious as we can sometimes be. (For example: Referring to ourselves in the collective third person.) Theatre, after all, is all about the play, and so it would be contradictory to approach writing about it without a certain sense of playfulness. Occasionally, however, we have to address serious issues the severity of which no amount of levity can affect. In that this 'blog is about a personal journey as much as it is about larger issues of a fulfilling life and artful journeys, naturally some of these more-serious topics are going to cut pretty close to the bone, and come up here as a result of being personally important to me rather than due to timely relevance or any particular external instigation. In this case, however, the issue is both personal and timely.
The theatre is in serious danger of being killed off. I'm not leaning on hyperbole by phrasing it in this way -- I very specifically mean to suggest a murder. It's a killing by little pieces, a sloughing-off of life as if by erosion, and so it is insidious in the extreme. An alternative form of entertainment is taking over the theatre's former place in our lives, and we may not even appreciate the threat, simply because we are so entertained by it. This form of entertainment is characterized by flashy effects, easy laughs, baser instincts and extremely brief demands on our collective attention span. Moreover, as impossible as it may seem, it is spreading rapidly in popularity by merit of its availability and relative lack of expense, both to produce and to enjoy. There is no greater threat to legitimate theatre, nor has there ever been or likely will be again if we don't take a stand against it in a timely manner.
The new entertainment I refer to is, of course: "The Vaudeville."
Naturally, I know you will react dismissively to this assessment, but I beg of you to hear me out. I, too, rejected the premise when initially it came to me. Though it may seem absurd in the extreme to regard this cheap, new-fangled idiom as any kind of threat to the grandeur and history of the theatre, I have noted several indications of late which suggest that The Vaudeville is not only encroaching upon the theatre's domain, but that it threatens to wholly and utterly usurp said domicile. You will argue against it, naturally. I can not hold this against you. But forgive me whilst I demount any and all of your protests:
- The theatre has stood as a standard of verisimilitude for too long to be torn asunder by the actions of gag men. While patently true in its own sense, this argument is actually irrelevant to the particular threat at hand. Of course The Vaudeville can never hope to approach the sheer reality of a truly produced theatrical endeavor; no amount of colloquialism can hope to make up for the utter lack of design and artistry. However, dear friends, note that the equation has reversed in the case of The Vaudeville. It does not seek to imitate life, because life is imitating it. Why, just the other day I approached a fellow in the hopes of acquiring a newspaper, to which request he replied, "Hang it for a tick, guy. My Bob's ah'summin'." Needless to say, I did not remain to inquire who or what constituted this man's "Bob," or in what state of which it could be said to be "ah'summin'." No, recognizing the idiomatic language of the small stage, I departed in terror of this Vaudeville language, or "VAUL-speak."
- The Vaudeville, unlike the theatre, does not elevate our beings; in fact, it degrades us with its total lack of style or substance. Again, Dear Reader, I must agree. And yet again, I must with great regret dissuade you of conventional priorities. That is to say -- and I say so with tremendous apology and concern -- the larger audience may not be interested in having their beings elevated. I KNOW, I know: It is an horrifying concept. Yet all my observances of late suggest that people seem to want their entertainment to, above all else, entertain them. This The Vaudeville does exceedingly well, albeit with prattling mechanics and base, visceral humor. Of course we all respect and admire the astonishing word-play of Mr. Shakespeare, particularly when a seasoned actor may truly take his time over each, and every, word . . . but how can we not but laugh when any fool falls to his bumpkin? It is base, as I say, reflexive, even instinctive, but there can be no denying its immediate effect. Laughter-as-opiate can only draw, however gradually, more and more addicts from our ranks of thespian-enthusiasts down to the cellar of The Vaudeville.
- But the theatre is an event, a special and discriminating experience that must be planned for, researched, sacrificed for, and ultimately - we may occasionally hope - baffles our expectation! Reader: I know, and I empathize utterly with your devotion. But kindly brace yourself for this next: A growing number of people are valuing convenience. Convenience! It's true: there is nothing so wonderful as the sheer effort involved in attaining the hard-earned income for a ticket to the theatre, attempting to attain that ticket, and thereupon spending more money and time on the ceremony surrounding a trip out to the theatre. Can anything afford greater satisfaction than this? Of course not! The idea is pure tomfoolery! Yet imagine for a moment, if you will, a whole neighborhood of people who are never afforded the opportunity to experience this reward. And why? Because just down the block is a tiny space that costs not two bits to enter, and wherein food and drink are all served amidst a rabble of conversation and entertainment. Terrifying, isn't it? Just. Down. The block. Not two bits, and anyone can not only attend, but contribute to the evening's experience.
(Happy 1st o' April, one and all!)