Thursday, September 25, 2014

Does Art Always Have to Have a Meaning? A Theater Journalist's First Green Room Interview Experience

This blog post has been inspired by something Richard Schechner, the director of Alexander Kasser Theater's 10th season's opening production "Imagining O", said to me. I was covering "Imagining O" for Baristanet, which led to my interaction with Mr. Schechner.

"Imagining O" is one of those plays that does not necessarily have a straightforward story line. This particular play more so prides itself with its little bits and pieces of dream imagination sequences. After the play concluded and I chatted with two of the cast members, I asked to meet Mr. Schechner. I was taken backstage to the green room where he was sharing notes of the night's performance with the cast. We were introduced and I asked to get a quote from him. He then told me to ask the cast anything I wanted.

I figured that now that I am a professional freelance writer and a college graduate actually working in my field, I was in a good position to do backstage interviews. I never did these back when I was a Montclarion staff writer. This was my first chance as a professional so I wanted to take advantage of it and do it right.

I turned to the girls. They were women of all different ages, so it being a female run show I was excited to interact with them all. They in turn looked thrilled to see me there, so I wanted to make a good impression. They asked me what I wanted to know, and I told them that they could tell me anything they wanted. I used this as an opportunity to let the performers just say anything they want about their experiences with no limitations. However, Mr. Schechner preferred that I ask them specific questions.

"Oh. Okay," I said, seating myself sideways at the nearest table to face the cast, who was eating their dinner on a leather couch in the middle of the room. Mr Schechner sat to my left facing them. My mind raced searching for the questions that I had been mentally asking throughout the production. So, I turned to my generic question, one that I had also asked the two cast members a few minutes beforehand.

"What message do you hope to convey with this performance?" I asked.

Now that I think about it, I think I often ask this question and ones like it. I like to get some insight from the performers based on their own perspective of the piece.

However, Mr. Schechner wasn't having it.

“There are no messages or morals,” said Mr. Schechner, “It is full of contradictions and about imagination.”

I actually used this for a quote in my article.

The cast asked me what I thought of the play. All eyes were on me and I felt somewhat unprepared, given that the play wasn't fully clear to me and once again I wanted to make a good impression.

I said, "Well, I'll be honest. There were times when I was lost." I felt a little hesitant to say that to their faces, actually turning around to place my pen on my notebook probably to subconsciously avoid eye contact. But that's understandable, right? To feel lost during an art piece?

Mr. Schechner seemed perplexed. "At what part specifically were you lost?" He proceeded to tell me to get the idea of messages out of my mind (I think this was when he said that quote.) and that the play was just a piece of art to watch. He then compared it to looking at a sunset or a thunderstorm.

"Is there a message in the sunset? Is there a message in the thunderstorm?" he asked me, awaiting my response.

A little dumbfounded, I shook my head and uttered a small, "No." I mean, he DID have a point...

But then a few days later I thought that there very well COULD be symbolic messages behind sunsets and thunderstorms!!

Since then my article was written and published, but this debate about artistic messages and lack thereof stayed with me. I always felt that art had its own interpretations based on the viewer. Art is used to directly or indirectly make a point, such as with use of symbolism and satire, two of which "Imagining O" incorporates.

I thought back to my college days (Ha! It's only been a year and a half and I'm already considering them "back to my college days.") during my junior/senior year when I took an Art of Drama course with one of my favorite professors and advisor, Professor Naomi Liebler. She enjoyed discussions and challenging her students, especially me because I often spoke up in class and she knew me from our advising sessions in her office. This same discussion came up when discussing a play and for some reason she brought up juggling. She claimed that juggling is an art form that has no meaning behind it and questioned what meaning it could try to portray. I retaliated by saying that juggling could be symbolic of keeping balance in the world or something like that.

I have always been a deep thinker, obviously.

Professor Liebler gave me a look. It wasn't, "Wow, you're absolutely right!" nor was it "No, you're absolutely wrong." It was an in-between confused, somewhat sarcastic and proud grin that said to me, "Really? You really think that? Come on, now!" She may have actually said those words, but she was mainly happy that I was thinking and willing to argue my point with her.

She gave me the same look another time when she said that drama is a genre and comedy isn't and I claimed that comedy is just as much a genre as drama is. I think she believed that drama has more depth to it with tragic heros and whatnot whereas comedy does not and is just there. However, I believe that comedy could have depth to it as well and if drama is a genre than why shouldn't comedy be? This was when she smirked at me, her head resting on her right hand as she sat before us. She then stated that she was reconsidering her claim.

So am I right in believing that all art has meaning or could certain things in this world exist without it? 

Is it even possible for things to not have meaning? Doesn't everything have a reason?

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