- Community TheatreThe New York Season 2013–14
To give an account of current issues in contemporary New York theatre, PAJ convened three critics for a season review roundtable whose format was inspired by the critical dialogues that the journal hosted in the mid-eighties and early nineties (featuring Bonnie Marranca, Gerald Rabkin, Elinor Fuchs, and Johannes Birringer). The aim of the discussion was to conduct a general review of the overall season, highlighting its most noteworthy theatrical offerings. (This was a deliberately quixotic gesture in a year when the magazine ArtReview’s list of the hundred most powerful figures in the contemporary art world notably included no critics at all.1) We chose to attend and consider close to twenty-five productions from a pool of over fifty possibilities, narrowing these down to a final eight for the overview below. These works amount to a rich and ambitious variety of theatre projects representing some of the most outstanding artists of our generation. They testify to a host of contemporary concerns, perhaps none more pressing than a desire to reconsider “community” and “the social” under present political and economic circumstances—particularly the continuing fallout of the 2008 financial crisis and the aftermath of Occupy Wall Street. Over several hours in May 2014, our conversation ranged over a variety of topics. These included the newfound interest in participation as an aesthetic category; the increasingly pervasive use of non-professionals, volunteers, and what one arts organization has described as “locally sourced” performers;2 new anxieties about authority, especially the power and credibility of experts; and new ideas concerning the writing and use of text in performance. J. C.
Joseph Cermatori is associate editor at PAJ and currently completing his Ph.D. through the department of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, where his research has been funded by the Jacob K. Javits Foundation. He also teaches in the theatre and arts faculties at Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts. In addition to PAJ, his criticism has appeared in Theater, The Brooklyn Rail, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.
Ryan Anthony Hatch is assistant professor in the department of English at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where he teaches modern and contemporary drama. He received his Ph.D. from the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture at the State University of New York, University at Buffalo. He [End Page 14]
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has been a member of the editorial collective of Umbr(a): a journal of the unconscious, and his criticism has appeared previously in PAJ, CR: The New Centennial Review, Correspondances, and on Culturebot.
Miriam Felton-Dansky is assistant professor in the theater and performance program at Bard College. She received her D.F.A. in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism from the Yale School of Drama, where she won the John W. Gassner Memorial Prize for criticism. She is a contributing editor of Theater magazine, and her critical writing has also appeared in PAJ, TDR, Theatre Journal, and the Village Voice. She is currently working on a book project about viral performance.
I think we ought to begin with a piece that we saw early in the season, a production of The Tempest that was directed by Lear deBessonet and hosted by the Public Theater’s Public Works program. Public Works is a manifestation of the current interest in socially engaged performance practice, and it’s significant that such a major center of New York theatre has created a specific, ongoing program to address the need, or the perceived need, for this kind of performance. But The Tempest was just a collection of different community groups, dance groups, and musical groups that were not really integrated into any rich artistic idea. Instead they were just being showcased, as if at a talent show or some other community gathering.
The central theme at stake in this production...