Two of the writers featured prominently in this issue are actors, and the articles they contribute to this issue are based on experiences in their professional lives. But the subjects they broach are so wildly divergent, so antithetical in their visions of the nature and purpose of theatre, that one could imagine the two articles mounted atop signposts pointing in opposite directions: “Commercial Success in the Showplace of Capitalism THIS WAY,” “Communal Healing and Anarchic Resistance THAT WAY.”
Both roads are full of twists and turns. Heading THIS WAY, your guide is Paul VanDeCarr, whose Antecedents essay, “This Lovely, Delicate, Fragile Thing,” mines a little-known oral-history memoir to extract some revelatory secrets about the emergence of Tennessee Williams into the American mainstream. As 2013 Broadway audiences cheer Cherry Jones in a landmark performance as Amanda in The Glass Menagerie, VanDeCarr turns the clock back almost 70 years to track the tortured machinations that landed Laurette Taylor in the role’s first—and instantly legendary—incarnation. Destination: the commercial theatre at its artistic apex.
The other actor, David Dudley, unapologetically suggests—in “The Necessity of Anarchy,” his vivid account of the 50th-anniversary summer of Peter Schumann’s one-of-a-kind Bread and Puppet Theater—that you head THAT WAY instead. The road Dudley’s traveling leads from the Greenwich Village of the turbulent ’60s to the old barns and sunny meadows of a farm in Vermont, where, along with scores of B&P’s collaborators and fellow travelers, he settled in this past summer to take part in the company’s communal creative process. And to hand-mill some rye berries into flour. What could be further from Broadway?
Then again, it wouldn’t be hard to map some connections (even if they’re long-distance ones) between the distinctive artistry of a writer like Williams and that of an activist/auteur like Schumann—and certainly there are audiences (I’m in!) open to the radically different kinds of performance experiences these artists’ works provide. If theatre is a highway that stretches from Shubert Alley and the West End to street protests in Moscow and masked dance in Indonesia—and it is, I’d argue—signpost articles like VanDeCarr’s and Dudley’s help us calibrate our aesthetic GPS.
Having tortured the metaphor this far, I’ll go on to observe that other articles in the issue point to some significant exits on our expansive theatrical highway: Arts journalist Robert Avila wheels into San Francisco’s Mission District to analyze the impact of an expanded Z Space on the Bay Area performance community; critic Kris Vire tracks iconoclastic director/adapter Sean Graney’s ever-speedier progress from his Chicago roots onto the national scene; and educator Janice C. Simpson, in a carefully reasoned feature essay titled “The Trayvon Factor,” stops off at an array of major theatres to get a handle on how the treatment of race on U.S. stages has been affected by the emblematic Martin-Zimmerman trial.
So hit the metaphoric road and follow the signs in whatever directions appeal to you. There’s compelling theatre at every junction.