Friday, April 16, 2010

New = Good?

Here's the thought that's been brewing down low in the guiltier parts of my brain:  I don't care much about "new works," at least not per se.  What I care about is works that compel me in new ways.  But, it seems that every regional theater scene wants to make a name for itself as an incubator of 'New Works.'  To say that "most new work is mediocre" is a meaningless tautology.  But, to say that "mediocre work is not what I enjoy experiencing" is a confession of taste.

What I enjoy is work that lifts me from the every day to an enjoyment or realization that transcends my current habits of mind and limitations of empathy and joy.  And by "transcends," I mean, "creates new conditions for the possibility of new habits of mind and expanding the reach of my empathy and joy" (I remember my Kant.)  'Old' work more often does that for me than 'new' work, unless the new work is good.  I don't believe I know much about what it takes to 'incubate' good new works, other than the individual hard work and vision of individual writers. And being produced.

I'm hugely grateful for each new generation of writers, and so, per force, I'm also grateful for whatever makes it possible for them to get enough practice to get good.  The current generation I know (I'm surely behind the curve) include Doug Wright, Craig Wright, Craig Lucas, Neil Labute, Connor McPherson, Martin McDonough, Sarah Ruhl, Suzan-Lori Parks, etc.  Slightly older writers I'm also still discovering and hugely enjoy include Paula Vogel and John Patrick Shanley, and when he's avoiding pedantry, Lee Blessing.  Work I cherish by writers a bit older still (and whose work is now contemporary classics) are Wilson, Stoppard, Albee, Pinter, Mamet.

Maybe what I don't like is the group think that attends any sense of 'a movement.'  When the phrase "New Works" gets tossed around I hear the squishy slogan at the heart of some vague sense of 'a movement.'  And where there's a 'movement,' there's a centripetal pull toward over-praising anything that seems to be part of it and centrifugal spinning off of anything that doesn't.  New movements may start in at attempt to define a new aesthetic or standard, only to grow blind to any standard other than the one that gives them definition.  "New" winds up equalling "good" and "old" ends up equalling "more of that Chekhov and Miller shit" at which some young company roles its eyes.

So, I'm not all that drawn to "New Works," though work that is new is often intriguing, especially when it also happens to be good.

1 comment:

Jon said...

I'm not in the thick of it as you are of course, so I probably lack the sense of a "movement" and all that. But, as in my own field (music), we don't get the Good new stuff unless we have an environment in which new stuff (Good and Bad) can happen. Of course the batting average looks crushingly low compared with the old stuff, but that's because the sifting has already happened with the old stuff and (on the whole) we see only its best examples now. Naturally that's going to make almost anything new look bad by comparison.

And of course all this is ridiculously obvious and you know it as well as anybody.