Theatre from the cracks in the psyche of culture

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August 1999

Paradox and "Misery"

by Joe Woodward

Beneath the contemptuous eyes of madness and delusion

the artist rages, imploring some personal conspiracy of shadows

to uphold that tenuous balance on the high wire to extinction

between the challenge of personal exposure and public recognition

And it must be so!

The shadow life, normally lurking uncontaminated and hidden inside most people's existence, becomes highlighted and drawn into sharp relief through a work of art. Any art. But most obvious through the ancient art of theatre performance. So how strange that contemporary theatre finds its own existence so problematic as it searches through the paths of economics and the Harvard Business School for its spiritual life blood and inspiration! How strange that theatre organizations are constantly heralded for having laudable management expertise on their boards, well presented brochures and marketing plans, while their audiences decline and while performances and spaces become leeched of any semblance of the shadow inhabitants lurking within cultural and psychic personas! How strange that the sacred ground has given way to the fluorescent ghosts of well meaning committees and ailing once-upon-a-time artists "alone and palely loitering" through memories of some romanticised doyen of idealized theatre practice ... mostly dated around 1975!

Perhaps it is a case of the once-upon-a-time-radical becoming self-conscious and now kneeling with the power-dressing ones with the cactus smiles bowing beneath the sacred cow of purchaser/provider rationalism. And as every student of the arts knows: artists have always grovelled beneath the conceits of egocentric megalomaniacs and the self aggrandisements of disdainful benefactors in public office ... from the Pharaohs to the Medicis to the present.

Only the whinging "wankers" or commercial / "sell-out" populists seem to proffer alternative views. But even the commercial / "sell-out" populist can be caught in the spiral of demands created by the purchaser of his/her effort. Take Paul Sheldon, the fictional hero of Stephen King's MISERY: A popular writer of schlock romance novels, only to have his foot cut off by his "number 1 fan".

Sheldon has become very successful and adept at working his market. All is well until he has an accident and has to face Annie Wilkes who has over the years purchased everything he has written. But now, Wilkes is not happy with what Sheldon has provided in his most recent manuscript. So much so, she forces him to write the novel just the way she wants it.

The artist's paradox is clear. The need for public recognition, acceptance and support (even nurturing) is often warring with those very urges which drive the work. Massive personal / psychological resources, self trickery and ego are essential ingredients to frame any work before presentation to the public.

Beneath the contemptuous eyes of madness and delusion the artist rages, imploring some personal conspiracy of shadows to uphold that tenuous balance on the high wire to extinction between the challenge of personal exposure and public recognition. And always, there is the question: "What right have I to show this? To do this? To be?" And how far can one be seen to struggle, before Annie Wilkes cuts off both legs at the knees?

 

 


Shadow House PITS produces a sometimes monthly news letter Trinculo's Shadow   emailed to people interested in local and international theatre issues and events. We welcome contributions from groups and individuals who use theatre to explore the human condition, who venture into the very psyche of cultural and personal expression who are interested in exploring the mysteries of life and social / cultural interaction. 
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