Monday, January 21, 2008

Performing Arts vs. Entertainment

So I’m a writer, right? It’s want I do, what I want to get paid to do. Right now, I’m heavy into writing plays. It’s just how things are coming together. Of course, I’d like to get into film, and novels and whatnot. But at present, the opportunities are in live theater. I do live in NYC after all.

I just got word of a grant to support It Goes Unsaid, a performance piece I co-authored with Rhonney Greene and Teresa Lasley at Under the Spell Productions. The grant is a very encouraging accomplishment, and I’m thrilled to have been a “winner” in that regard. Of course, it doesn’t really cover the costs in actually mounting the production. But it recognizes the “artistic merit” of what It Goes Unsaid does as a performance piece.

What in the world is a performance piece anyway? Well, as I understand it, a performance piece is a work meant to be observed live. It takes elements of conventional theater, but also samples from other kinds of modes of expression: dance, music, spoken word, photography, film etc. So it is play in the loosest sense of the word, but doesn’t necessarily follow a set dramatic format.

It Goes Unsaid is a very exciting project to be working on. And at the same time, it presents its own set of challenges. Plays are a bit different. There are set avenues of success for them. But a performance piece? Broadway doesn’t really pick those up exactly…sort of, well there are things like Blue Man Group…but I’m not sure that really captures what the breadth a “performance piece” can cover.

It Goes Unsaid is a pretty serious work, dealing directly with race, self-hatred, misogyny, and a whole host of other social issues. It’s pretty engaging, I’d say, and was commissioned to be so. It’s an artsy socially-conscious kind of thing. And I must say I love it. At the same time, I want to take it BIG.

But how?

I’m reaching a bit of a divide that I feel is unfair: performing arts vs. entertainment. Performing arts is what I would call more culturally responsible artistic work—something a like jazz concert or the ballet, or basically anything that Hollywood has trouble with. Entertainment is just the opposite: the stuff that is easy to like by just about everyone.

Of course I want to do both. And I think the best kind of art works in both realms. Right now, It Goes Unsaid is working just fine in the performing arts side of things, and its entertaining. Most definitely. But…is it viable as an entertainment production?

As we speak, my partners and I are wracking are brains on how to take our Performance Piece BIG, as in real big with REAL BIG PROFIT. We have some vested interests in taking it in that direction. But, as any Theater professional will tell you, profit margins in live entertainment are narrow. So I’m looking to “think outside the box,” and use other clichés of creativity as I try to nail down realizing the full potential of my “performance piece.”

That’s all for now. Let me know your thoughts.

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