Saturday, September 19, 2009

Shows on the Go and A Rant on Exposition

Update on the scene. Wow! How did we get to September? I looked at my refrigerator and it seems only a few weeks ago I was putting up my 2009 Obama Calendar. Ah well.

I have been pretty busy, taking in some shows. Here’s the last fourteen days or so

I was lucky enough to get into the closing night of Lynn Nottage’s powerhouse Ruined. Fantastique! I also took in Programs A and B of the River Crosses Rivers Festival of new plays by women of color, presented by the Ensemble Studio Theatre. (some real gems there.)

Last week, I took in a treat of two One-Acts: Ardor Doody by Lucile Scott and Jesse Cameron Alick and In the Big Rock Candy Mountain by Julia Holleman with music by Lucas Cantor. That was some thought-provoking work, and I enjoyed hanging out with some of the cast and crew afterwards.

And that’s not all. Elsewhere in live performance, I punched it to Brooklyn for a special evening of house music, dance, and sci-fi sensibilities in a show called Atlantis, produced by WildSeed music, the show featured Imani Uzuri and Monstah Black, among others. I thoroughly enjoyed breathing underwater at Atlantis.

And just last nite, I took in a Hip-Hop Cabaret show at the Castillo Theatre, showcasing a talented troupe of youth performers.

So, no, I’m not doing anything tonight. I need to take a break. Seeing all this stuff is great for the soul, and is testament to the vibrant arts scene of the city. We won’t even get into the shows I didn’t get to see. With all of this great material and talent finding its way to the stage, I wanted to take a step back and reflect on some technique stuff.
So let's just get to it --- EXPOSITION.

It’s interesting to me how in the theory of performance, EXPOSITION is something of a detractor. A bad thing to have. Why, you ask? Because exposition is not drama. It doesn’t reflect conflict or resolution. It provides context. And providing context, put simply, is not the stuff of good theater. Therefore, one of the most common comments you may hear about a work that “wasn’t so hot” is that it was heavy on the exposition.

I will go ahead and admit that I basically agree that exposition cannot be the core of a dramatic piece. Exposition can be an essay. Pure exposition can be a newspaper article. Explanation. Extrapolation. But things that sing, things that get into the grit of the human condition have to move a step beyond that. At least, that’s the consensus I’d say. SHOW US, don’t TELL US. That’s part of all of this exposition expulsion as well.

Now this anti-exposition dictum can really be a conundrum for those of us who dare to write non-realistic stuff, that is sci-fi and fantasy. I mean, we have to figure out a way to explain our world. And I am seldom satisfied with simply telling the audience, for example, that in this universe the Queen rules supreme because it is a matrilineal society, and that’s just the way it is. At the same time, some things really do require explanation. Some things, in REAL LIFE, come to us through. So at times, when I hear the “no no no to exposition” critique, I sometimes go a little deaf, especially if that little moment of explanation leads to some really interesting drama.

I’ve also been looking back at a lot of the plays and films I love, to see how they get around this business of exposition. News Programs are an interesting and oft-used conceit. So are briefings by bosses. Prologues are often employed, to get you into the set-up. Things like that. I would like to point out however, that sometimes the characters just say it. And what’s wrong with that?

And before someone tries to slam me with Shakespeare, let me just remind you that I needed loads and loads of footnotes to understand a lot of those Henry plays. Not just the language, but the situations required further explanation. The teachers prepped us for Julius Caesar and we were often reading history beside it. You need exposition for Shakespeare too. So there!

And that’s my rant and update for the week. Laters!