Wednesday, April 24, 2019

DOES THE WORLD NEED YOUR BOUFFON SHOW?


Oh freaky-deaky left-leaning theater artist with activism in your heart, I know just how it is. 

You're a good person and you really want to make the world better, and you carry around the not-insignificant guilt that you weren't born a climate scientist or an abortion doctor. What can eyeeee do to make the world better? you think, every single fucking day. And it wears on you. You can't help that you love the arts. And so, you go through your life taking your performance classes, scouring Goodwill for your freaky-deaky costumes, and just praying that someday, the activist's path and your path will effortlessly converge. That, just by being you and living your truth, EVEN YOU will find a way into social change. And the world will be better for YOU being here. At last. 

Then you discover Bouffon. You learn about its origins in wicked social critique, its ability to skewer societal norms and to mock the status quo. You're like, THIS IS FUCKING IT. You immediately start building a show about income inequity or global warming or #metoo. You're like, this is what I can do to help the world. 

Oh, I get it, freaky-deaky left-leaning theater artist with activism in your heart (or, FDLLTAWAIYH). It's not easy dealing with the reality that you're a spotlight-hogging narcissist whose big want is for people to pay to watch you cavorting about on a stage. It's a tough mirror to face, and we've all been there. It's not unreasonable that you crave more than that. You see the world bleed; naturally you want to stanch that wound. You want your Satan-given talent to be for MORE than just your own jerkoff material.

Sure, of course. And good for you! You know the time is past for Hey I Should Make a Solo Show About That Time I Studied Abroad and Learned About Racism. You know it's gone way past Oo Or I Should Make A Solo Show About My Depression/Anxiety/Bipolar Diagnosis. Yes, and you're right about all that! You know, at least, that the world doesn't need a solo show about you. You want to make a show about something bigger than you, and for that, yes, you deserve praise. 

But hold on there, FDLLTAWAIYH. Just hold on a cotton-picking minute (see what I did there? No, the world also doesn't need a show about the time that blogger offended you with her use of "cotton-picking."). Remember that when bouffon was developing as a codified form, or even before that, when it was just a twinkle in some hunchbacked village idiot's eye, lots of people went to the theater. Before television, it was the only excuse to wear that ascot you really liked. Even when Jacques Lecoq was doing it in the 50's and 60's, normals went to theater shows. Maybe even conservative-type people went to theater shows! So maybe there was a chance, back in the 50's or 60's (which, just to do some math for ya, is over fifty years ago) that "the king was in the room", or, to say it another way—if you were doing bouffon fifty years ago, there was a slim chance that someone who needed to be challenged on their shittyass worldview was actually in the audience watching your show. And maybe, just maybe, that old shittyass dude had the potential to be slightly affected—maybe even changed—by your bouffon show. Just maybe. 

Fifty. Years. Ago. 

Now, if I may, a summary of the last fifty-plus years of theater: those people don't go to the theater anymore. 

At all. 

Or more to the point, if you want to make a show that a Trumper might go to, try making Aladdin or Mary Godfucking Poppins. There will be no Trumpers at your weirdass-looking bouffon show. They have too many sports to watch on TV, they have too much Arby's to eat, they have too many tiny-fetus cookies to bake for their anti-choice rallies. You'll never see them at your freaky-deaky show. Period. 

So who is coming to your bouffon show? Who sees your poster and thinks, This is for me! You already know the answer: freaky-deaky left-leaning theater artists with activism in their hearts! Or if they're not artists themselves, they are in queer knitting groups with such artists, or such artists walk their rescue chihuahuas two times a week, or whatever. The room is full of people who want to support you and feel just as you do about our fucked-up world. Actually, it's very possible that the abortion doctors and climate change activists are even in the room, on a short break from all their making-the-world-better. 

In short, your audience is a room full of people who are suffering from all the news telling them how fucked the world is, and they are all doing everything they possibly can to fix our fucked world every day, or at least just to survive it, and they decided to take an hour off from all that activism and pain to drink a goddamn red wine in a plastic cup and see your show. 

And you think this is your moment to be all activist on their asses and teach the audience how fucked up income inequity or sexual harassment is? Um, no bitch. Because every single person in the room already agrees with you, and they don't need your reminder. It's only going to further bum them out. 

You know what they need? They need the fantasy. They need to live in a beautiful world for an hour, in which the underdog is empowered and bathrooms are all equally unisex and sparkling clean. They need a taste of freedom. 

And you can give that to them! The most radical, activist thing you can do on that stage is be your freaky-deaky self in your freaky-deaky dream world, just be as weird as you are and act as if that is 1000% right and accepted and normal already, feel your fantasy and live it loud (and, of course, curate an experience because we're all tired of shows and now we all want experiences). We need success stories of radicalism, not horror stories about how things are now. We know how things are now. The only way any of us are going to have the strength to change the world is if we see How The World Could Be enacted right before our eyes. There's your activism, bitch. That's what you can do for the world. 

That doesn't mean, of course, that you can't make fun and satirize and skewer... you just have to consider who's going to be in the room and what they need, which is different from what the world needs. That's where you must wield your bouffon power not like a blunt instrument but like a scalpel, as my bouffon teacher friend Nathaniel Justiniano likes to say. It's gotta be surgical and it's gotta be precise. 

Otherwise—no matter how many people are in your audience—you're just screaming into an empty room. 
Don't be that bouffon. 

And while we're on the subject, take those foam pads out of your pants. 
But that's a bouffon gripe for another day. 

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