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AMERICAN THEATERS RUN BY 'COWARDS'
by Mindi King
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The American theater will not reach the cutting edge until
theater owners and producers are concerned with art, not economics, and
audiences are engaged, rather than passive, a distinguished UH playwright said.
Edward Albee, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and distinguished UH professor, said theater owners and producers are "playing a vicious game that has turned the commercial theater into a wasteland."
Albee spoke Tuesday night before approximately 450 people at "The Playwright vs. the Theatre," which was the first Inventive Minds Speakers Series event of the semester.
Mel Gussow, a leading theater critic for The New York Times moderated the hour-long discussion among Gussow, Albee and the audience. The event was held in the Grand Ballroom of the University Hilton.
Albee said the economics of the theater have led producers and theater owners, who ultimately control the theaters in New York City and determine what is shown, are more interested in selling tickets than advancing the art form.
"They are cowards," he said. "The huge economic investment plus the fact they think they know what will be tolerated by the powerhouse critics, results in a number of worthwhile plays that never make it to Broadway."
However dim the situation may be today, it is not theoretically hopeless, he said.
"If I was given billions and billions of dollars and was permitted to fill every Broadway theater with only the very best plays, acted and directed by extraordinary people, I am convinced that after ten years that would be the taste of theater-going audiences," he said.
Albee said critics also play a vital role in the advancement of the theater. "The role of critics is to elevate the public taste."
There are differences between critics and reviewers, he said. Critics are to objectively inform an audience what is intended in a performance and reviewers are to say what happened, he said. However, he added, far too many people read critical commentary as fact rather than opinion.
"Readers should know the mind of a critic before believing a review," he added.
Audiences also have a responsibility to make the value judgements they are capable of making, he said. The tolerated standards of Broadway are constantly being lowered because the variety of opportunity we are offered today is reduced more and more, he said.
Society can change the state of the American theater by demanding engagement by the audience, he said.
Today audiences want the theater experience to be safe, he said, and to remain "mindless and passive."
"The thing with a democracy is you can have anything you want, and you always end up with exactly what you deserve," he said.
America deserves to have the kind of art we have now, he said, but if we get angry enough about the way theater is today it may change.
"If the theater owners of Broadway, producers and critics would realize that what the audience wanted was the very best, then they would get it because it would sell," he said.
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