I thoroughly enjoy David Mamet’s books, and so thought I’d go through chapter by chapter of his latest book “Theatre” on the blog as and when I have time to. Feel free to comment, and add your views. Mamet isn’t a divine authority, but he certainly gets me thinking, and I trust he does the same for you.
His first chapter is The Hunter and the Game, here he makes an important observation that the Broadway ( as an American he obviously focuses on American theatre) audience is now predominantly made up of tourists;
“The tourist has no memory of last year’s play and actors…He comes to see spectacle, which will neither provoke nor disturb, whose worth cannot be questioned.”
The tourist has a different “agenda” when viewing theatre, they want to be able to go home having had an experience and brag about it. The West End thankfully is seeing a rise in attendance of plays (and of newly written ones too), but it is dominated by spectacles, and some even describe and sell themselves as such. Obviously it’s good that the “spectaculars” bring in tourists and therefore help the economy, but isn’t it a shame that so many of the musicals on currently are simply “juke box” shows or revivals.
Mamet then goes on to say that plays have to succeed in New York for them to then be able to even be printed, tour or be picked up and produced by amateur groups and thus provide a continued income for the playwright. He’s quite scathing regarding the critics, which is interesting as The Stage has recently run a few articles on the future of the critic and has a good podcast on it (available for free via iTunes).
After reading this chapter, I gained a sense of how fortunate I am to be in London and the UK, which even though I moan and grumble (on occasion), we have a huge amount of theatres in London (40 in the West End alone) which put on a the whole kaleidoscope of theatrical productions one could want to see. See some of my previous reviews from the last months for a variety of what’s been or is currently on.
He ends on a positive note, saying that perhaps the internet will be a way of plays/playwrights being seen by a wider audience. I suppose time will tell.