Rarity: A new American play premiered in a small American town
It’s so tough to get new plays on the stage, especially in a small town like Charleston. Even tougher when they originate from Charleston. Fortunately, we have a courageous theater company that doesn’t wait for new work to trickle down from New York. The ensemble is called PURE Theatre and the new play is called Sheep’s Clothing by local playwright Spencer Deering. The occasion brought to mind Mike Daisey’s controversial one-man play about How Theater Failed America.
About a year ago, Mike Daisey staged a one-man show in New York called How Theater Failed America. The acclaimed monologuist made the case that regional theater sucks, because it aims for business more than art.
Regional theater typically obsesses over growth, Daisey claimed, focusing on building bigger buildings more than developing better actors. It caters to the wealthy, marketing itself like a luxury item. And it relies too much on importing actors from New York.
Daisey, who is a 2005 Spoleto Festival alum, wasn’t saying anything really new, except this: that the usual problems regional theaters cite as their main obstacles — such as competition from movies and television, drained government subsidies, strained philanthropic communities, and audiences that just don’t get it — are basically hokum.
None of that would matter, Daisey argued in his play, if the focus were on actors and playwriting, not business. In How Theater Failed America, Daisey calls for a return to the repertory model in which a dedicated group of actors hones its skills and creates new work. That means an acting troupe that’s smaller, leaner, and more aggressive artistically. If that sounds like a description of PURE Theatre, that’s because it is.
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