Will Leschber talks around our creative babies.
You hear that? You can’t hear that?! Oh it’s getting loud. That’s Bay Area chatter. That chatter is the building discussion of the future of theatre in the Bay Area. Where are we? Where are we headed? Who in the area is steering the ship. Can we just get some damn people to care about this flexing vessel that so many Bay Area artist call their home community. Many do care and that’s why I suppose so many conversations have surfaced. The list I’ve witnessed goes something like: Brad Erickson’s Executive Director’s note in this month Theatre Bay Area magazine; to a round table discussion of Theatre Pub bloggers (Claire Rice is crazy well-informed on this ; to the new podcast sensation “Born Ready” with Rob Ready and Ray Hobbs (the episode with fellow T-Pub blogger Allison Page was quite good.); and on to casual conversations I’ve had among friends. If you listen…the conversation will come!
The conversation breaks upon a macro levels and micro levels. The TBA Executive Director’s note will tell you, “For far too many, the particular power of theatre is largely unrealized.” It’s wonderful to begin the discussion with an overarching statement like this but it doesn’t give me any direction to work towards. It encompasses everything but helps us fix nothing. The point of the note isn’t to fix everything; it’s to address an issue, which it successfully does. Discussing small micro issues can be more beneficial and to the point. Or maybe just that addressing one specific point can be more productive.
Take for example Velina Brown in her July/August TBA column, “The Business of Show Biz”. She gracefully speaks to a concerned reader about ‘Feminism vs Career’. A young actress writes in to say, “My problem is I am mostly cast as victims of some sort–domestic violence, rape, etc…I want my work to show more positive images of women, but I also don’t want my career to come to a screeching halt while I wait for the few strong women’s roles to come around. What do I do?” Velina wisely addresses the issue. She comes to the point that individual artists have to decide which roles are worthy of their artistic goals and stresses the benefits of maintain integrity while navigating accepting or politely passing on a project Brown says, “the bottom line is you have to live with the ramifications of your choices. If the idea of doing a project doesn’t feel good to you, don’t do it. Sure, you ‘ll have to make touch choices at times. We all do.” Addressing this one specific topic and insisting on maintaining artistic integrity on an individual basis is just as important as an overarching general conversation. Moreover, it can improve the larger theatre scene by progressing the stories playwrights/producers choose to tell instead of remaining mired in tired portrayals that too often appear on stage.
Reading this column reminded me of the wonderful new indie film, Obvious Child. Talk about turning a tired genre on it’s ear… Obvious Child is being marketed as the “best romantic comedy about abortion that you’ll ever see!” Now I know, you are thinking What the fuck?! Just wait. I’m telling you, you should go out of your way to see this. It’s possible the funniest film of the year. Also it tells a familiar story in a genuinely fresh way with a new unique voice. Jenny Slate plays the lead role as a 20 something comedienne whose unexpected pregnancy forces her to deal with her issues and bridging the gap into adulthood.
You may know Jenny Slate from her television work (Parks and Rec, Married) or possible her notorious single season on SNL in which she let slip on air the F-bomb. Her contract was not renewed. If not there you may recognize her voice as the viral phenomenon Marcel the Shell. It would have been easy to typecast Slate as a nasally voiced annoying bitch best friend, but she’s so much more than that. This odd comedienne/actress was actually the valedictorian of her university! She’s smart, funny and has created/worked on a myriad of projects ranging from critically acclaimed variety shows, to podcasting with her long time comedy partner (and husband), Dean Fleischer-Camp, to animated shorts and voice work, then on to diverse acting roles. These culminate in Obvious Child. Jenny Slate’s multi-talents help layer her character with depth, humor, crass vulnerability, raw emotion and exuberant empathy. She may not be everyone’s cup of tea but Slate’s character is nothing if not a fully realized and worthy of your time.
In all the chatter about the future of theater in the bay or spotlight indie films, we still need to remember that what we choose to see and the individual artistic choices we make all have consequences. If we are building something together, we should be conscious of our shared influence. Both Velina Brown’s advice and the thematic through-line of Jenny’s Slate’s Obvious Child ultimately comes down to making an informed decision and then realizing that our choices have consequences. Slate’s character takes a risk and continues on her path in the wake of that risk. Brown wants us as actors to think about how our role choices could affect out future careers. Decide what you want, put yourself out there and live confidently in the choice made.