This is something I read awhile ago (a year? A bit more? A bit less?) and it stuck with me. Rather than blog about some generic “we’re still working on the play” stuff (we are), I thought I’d share this in full. Link to where I found it here. There’s a link from that site to some video.
The following was written for the, “From Where I Stand”, symposium at the Under the Radar Festival. It does not include all of Taylor Mac’s beliefs about the theater but a good number of them.
I believe belief is for assholes.
I believe irony is useful and fun at the beginning of a performance but tedious if held on to.
I believe that truth, in the theater, is often confused with a clearing away of theatricality. I believe the clearing away of theatricality is as much of a glorious lie as the theatrical. I believe homophobia, racism, and sexism—in the theater—often manifests itself through the championing of “Realism” and or “Quiet” plays.
I believe people who use quotation marks with their fingers are assholes.
I believe, as a theater artist, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Because I believe, as a theater artist, I’m not a teacher; I’m a reminder. I’m just trying to remind you of things you’ve dismissed, forgotten, or buried.
I believe self-consciousness kills creativity. So we must work together to create environments where we can kill self-consciousness first. Make your rehearsal room a place that kills self-consciousness. Ask yourself, “Will these florescent lights kill self-consciousness?” No? Then light the rehearsal room with nice pleasant lighting already.
I believe designers should be in the room everyday, playing, not just sitting and taking notes. I believe we must give our designers things to play with in the room. I believe designers and even stage managers should do warm ups with the company.
I believe love when used as a verb is true and when used as a noun is a lie.
I believe in verbs.
I believe you can make a living as a theater artist but in order to do so, without making work you don’t like, you might need to think about falling in love with verbs more than nouns. I believe money is never really the reason but often the excuse. So when you say you can’t do my play because it will cost too much, I know what you really mean is, “I’d rather spend the money that I have on something else”. I believe that’s fair.
I believe if you set a financial goal, you will reach it and if that financial goal is small, your budget will be small, artists will barely get paid, and everyone will be a little grumpy.
I believe if NYC had no art and only Wall Street, nobody would want to live here. And so I believe 10% of all Wall Street salaries should go to artists.
I believe administration is an art form but if you’re an administrator who really wants to do a different form of art, you should quit your administration job, do that other art, and make room for administrators to take your job who actually love what they do. Because I believe there is nothing better than working with someone who loves what they do.
I recognize that sometimes I hate what I do and that the grumpy people around me may be just going through one of those hate-phases as well and to give them a break.
I believe sometimes it’s good to shut up and keep swimming but I believe sometimes it’s good to say what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it.
I believe theater is a service industry. It’s like being a plumber and theater artists are blue-collar workers who wear better clothes, for the most part.
I believe theater artists should be students of humanity
I believe, to learn what your audience needs, is the job
But caution that sometimes we confuse need with want.
Giving our audiences what they want is not the job.
Sometimes giving them what they want is a fringe benefit or happy accident but it is not the job.
I believe you may be saying to yourself, “That’s very presumptuous of him to think he knows what the audience needs”. But I believe if I were a plumber you wouldn’t think it was presumptuous of me to say my job is to learn what your plumbing needs. You would say I was a good plumber.
I believe sometimes we confuse what the audience needs with what the artist wants. That makes crappy art. But I believe there is room for it all. Including crappy art.
I believe authentic failure on stage is one of the great art forms.
I believe I sometimes fail at my job and I sometimes succeed and that humanity exists in both. I believe if I want my audiences to experience the range of their humanity, and I do, then I must reflect back at them, authentic success and authentic failure.
I believe I am a mirror and each and every one of my audience members is both snow white and the evil queen.
I believe I did not move from the suburbs to the city to see work about the suburbs. I believe if we model our theater after a suburban mentality we will perpetuate the status quo. I believe the great American middle class is not great. I believe the Greeks and Shakespeare wrote about successful people falling from grace, in their tragedies, and they wrote about down and out people rising and falling in and out of doldrums, in their comedies, but didn’t bother with the middle class because the middle class is boring.
Middle class stories are neither tragic nor wildly comedic simply because, when it comes to the middle class, the stakes aren’t high enough. Take that, Willy Loman.
But I believe most plays nowadays are sadly about the middle class.
As a result, I believe it is hard to find works of consequence. I believe in works of consequence and hope to make all of my plays and performances works of consequence. I believe if something doesn’t happen in your play that changes all the characters, players, and audience then it isn’t worth doing.
I believe if you’re a theater artist you are not cool so stop acting like you are.
I believe whole-heartedly in craft. I believe craft is essentially a commitment to learning the past, living in the present, and dreaming the culture forward. But I believe establishing standards for craft will not create great art but will foster the patriarchy. I believe contradictions and inspiring questions make great theater but sometimes wish I and other theater artists would just decide already.
I believe if you don’t see your story on stage… that is a good thing. Have a little curiosity already. I believe the call for Universality in the theater is a way of telling minorities they should act like the Majority. I believe minority theater artists are often asked to create work that the Majority can see themselves in. I believe if you’re a semi-wealthy white woman and you work for a fancy theater and you go to the Humana Festival and see The Universes, a hip-hop theater company that is made up of minority theater artists, and you don’t like it because you wonder, “Where the middle aged white woman’s story was in all of that?” The answer is, “In all the other plays at the Humana Festival”.
Having said that, I believe the audience matters.
I believe the audience should matter so much that without them the play and players could never reach the stories end. I believe each performance of a play or performance piece should be different from the previous performance of said piece. And not in simple ways but in giant big brave adventurous ways. I believe the audience deserves to alter the outcome of the events. I believe that it is essential for performing artists, each night they go on stage, despite the author and directors intentions, to not know whether the performance will be a tragedy or a comedy.
I believe all plays are flawed except the extremely boring ones so stop trying to make my play perfect.
I believe perfection is for assholes
I love assholes, but I don’t want them to run the theater.
It’s okay if they make some theater but they shouldn’t act like they run it.
I believe being an asshole is often a good thing but sometimes it’s, just being an asshole.
I believe we should say sorry every so often when our passions get the better of us.
I believe Artistic Directors should say hello to the performers that come to work in their theaters and that, in my experience, more than half of you do not. I believe this is unbelievably rude, hurtful, and counterproductive. I believe if you don’t want to meet me, you shouldn’t book me at your theater.
I believe Richard Forman is commercial theater. I believe my work and all “experimental work”, is commercial theater. I believe the non-profit sector is and has been incredible but that it’s taught audiences that theater is something most people won’t want to see. I believe, like the fashion world does with experimental work, where they market it as the best of what they have and as a result Alexander McQueen is the most successful selling show in the history of the Met, that if we stopped telling a vast majority of the people that they won’t like what we do, they would actually like what we do.
I believe experimental artists and commercial artists should collaborate more.
I believe someone reading this should give me lots of money to start my repertory theater. I believe a culture of repertory is the answer to most of our industry problems. I believe if you freeze a play you kill it. I believe theater artists need long runs and need to tour in order to truly learn what their work can do.
I believe your lattzi, monologue, scene, play, manifesto, is not long enough.
I believe ten-minute play festivals should be excommunicated from our industry.
Because I believe we almost always stop before we’ve truly finished.
I believe in words and the combination of words and their ability to surprise.
Most importantly I believe in surprise and that if you want to remind your audiences of the things they have dismissed, forgotten, or buried, then you need to surprise them.
I believe, in the theater, something surprising should happen every ten seconds.
And that, that surprise does not have to be big; it can be a breath.