Jan 3, 2011

Feingold Rallies

As Isaac pointed out last week, many saw 2010 as a grim year they're glad to be rid of. Like Isaac, I didn't happen to have a bad year; as anyone with a small child might attest, as they grow up it's the best of times (and sometimes the toughest, though you wouldn't trade them for anything). But, given the grim mood all around, I was heartened to read Michael Feingold's reflective piece on his four-decade career at the Village Voice, in which he confesses that, flanked by 92-year-old Judith Malina and 85-year-old Edward Albee on the stage of the reopened Provincetown Playhouse for a special event last December, the 65-year-old Feingold felt like "the oldest person onstage" given his interlocutors' forward-looking optimism. Then he plumbs the depths of his all-too-familiar (not only to his readers but to any who, like me, share a roughly adjacent career) despair:
Why shouldn't I think about retiring? Four decades of slotting a set number of words on the same topic into a set space should be enough. And over those decades, the New York theater's spirit has manifestly shrunk. I don't mean that the theater's gotten worse: Our art form is a resourceful beast genetically, spawning in every generation both imperishable masterpieces and ineradicable disasters. But the context in which these exceptions thrive has steadily narrowed.
This is the kind of thing that Isaac has continually pegged as Feingold's "it was better in my day" grumpiness (which hardly explains this recent effusion). But Feingold goes on, and he's always worth reading to the end (emphasis mine):
These three extraordinary figures bowled me over with their optimistic energy. I've been reviewing the actualities: those convenient, low-ceilinged plays that, too often today, constitute institutional Off-Broadway's only response to Broadway's stream of junk. My fellow panelists, meanwhile, have been contemplating what theater could still be, could still become, in this new century. Theatergoing continues to give me pleasure. I don't insist that innovation automatically equals good; I know what limitations we face. But I fret, often, over our theater's lack of reach. The desires to risk, to connect, to be worthy of the great past, have been stunted by the need to survive in this hectic electronified world.

Thought and feeling, which are of the theater's essence, find little place in that world's increasing quest for instant gratification. If I stay on, I want the kids under 30 to match the kids over 80 in ambition and hope.
That seems a fair challenge, and from where I sit, one we all might take to heart, on both sides of the footlights, and well outside the theater, too.

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