Monday, September 15, 2003
That colleges and universities spawn large amounts of theory on art, history, politics and philosophy comes, I suspect, from the requirements of the scholarly life. Throughout most of our history the highest levels of education were the preserve of a small number of the elite. But after WW II my generation was sent off to college en masse across all economic lines, almost unthinkingly as if it were the norm. While producing what is probably the most educated society in world history, immense pressure has been placed on grad students to explore progressively more and more arcane topics and on faculty to respond to "publish or perish" with ever more intricate disections of topics in their field.
I remember a faculty meeting at Middlebury College one winter as proposed dissertation topics were being reviewed. One PhD candidate had presented a subject that caused an extremely excited response: the use and placement of commas in the the prose of Thomas Hardy.
I, of course, approach my art from the viewpoint of a practitioner not a theorist, and that orientation surely colors my reaction. My world is about the concrete even though my research delves heavily into the history, culture and subtext of the plays and operas I design. One of my most faithful companions and reliable advisors over the years has been my gut instinct. I have learned to trust it and so have (most of) the directors with whom I have had the pleasure of working in a 41 year career (let me add at this that I started VERY young--and I am not kidding about that). Audiences have to have something with which to connect emotionally and the physical environment of a play or opera can be one of the most effective entry points into the material for them. The stage is a medium specifically for a visceral confrontation between performer and partaker. If over-intellectualized it eventually becomes too aloof for the public to grasp and its power is gone.