Commentary: Where are the conservative voices in theater?

Daniel Jones,, 11/5/12

It began with Churchill, as it so often does. Not Winston, of course -- Caryl. We were discussing the politically layered script Top Girls in a playwriting class. There was a pause in the discussion, and my professor [said]: "Come to think of it, I don't think there are many conservative playwrights at all." We all stopped for a second, considering this. Were there any theater artists we could think of who produced political work that read conservative? I couldn't think of artists or companies in the theater that had been branded conservative. It makes one wonder: why has the political tone of the theater become seemingly unilateral? Have we closed the doors to people who don't think like we do? How could a community so loving and open-minded deny anyone their right of expression, whether they agree with them or not? I think it would be fascinating and motivational to see a conservative playwright head-to-head with someone like Tony Kushner -- maybe a David Mamet/Kushner debate? After all, people of any political standing have creative sensibilities. Wouldn't it be gratifying to leave a theater having a conversation about a political viewpoint that you had previously not taken seriously?


Janine Sobeck responded to Mr. Jones' post on 11/7/12: When I was Literary Manager/Dramaturg at Arena Stage, my boss David Dower asked a similar question -- "can you pull together a list of "conservative" playwrights/plays?" He asked me, knowing I was a political/religious/social conservative. And I had similar trouble finding people and plays to populate my list. So, what is one possible answer as to why there are not more conservative (whether politically or religiously or both) playwrights, or theatre artists, in mainstream theatre? I answer only from my personal experience. It's not particularly welcoming. Or easy. It is wearying to never know when you are going to walk into a meeting, a rehearsal or a performance and suddenly become the butt of every joke. And the challenge of continuously trying to prove that being of a conservative frame of mind does not make you money-hungry, art-hating, close-minded, and anti-diversity is overwhelming. Luckily for me, there have been enough wonderful moments, developments and conversations with my colleagues that have convinced me that it is a challenge worth pursuing.


Commentary: Adventures in conservative theater

Howard Sherman on his personal blog, 11/13/12

There is an oft-repeated cry from certain corners of the creative community lamenting the lack of political theatre on our stages. Yet I seriously doubt that the Republican Theatre Festival is what they had in mind. I say this not to criticize the festival [which just ended] in Philadelphia, but because the conventional wisdom is that theatre is almost exclusively a liberal art. Those who want more stage politics presumably seek more activism on the part of left-leaning artists, not right wing-rhetoric. Personally, I think there's a place for theatre that addresses opinions across the political spectrum. But first and foremost, it needs to be good theatre, and I'm not sure that proclaiming theatre as liberal or conservative does the work any favors. Labels are most likely to limit potential audience. I have no qualms about the Festival, especially since it may introduce some previously unheard voices to mainstream theatre and I applaud it for attempting to bring infrequently-heard theatre viewpoints to light, even if I might not agree with them at all. As the now archly conservative David Mamet recently said of avowedly liberal Tony Kushner, "I'll let [him] work his side of the street and I'll work mine." Indeed, there are two sides to every street, but all of those roads lead us to the theatre, where art trumps didacticism every time, no matter the perspective.


Commentary: For playwright David Mamet, right is might

Pia Catton, The Wall Street Journal, 11/7/12

Playwright David Mamet had a lot to say at the Manhattan Institute's annual Wriston Lecture [on Nov 5]. In an election-eve mix of theater and politics, Mr. Mamet unleashed a 30-minute torrent of ideas as dense and sharp as anything that comes out of his characters' mouths. [He] didn't spend much time chronicling his departure from the left, which was the subject of his 2008 essay, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain Dead Liberal.'" Mr. Mamet explained only that he, like the late Harold Pinter (a fellow playwright and friend), had decided to "go from thinking about the most minute of human interaction -- two lines of dialogue -- to thinking about what the hell is going on here." [Afterwards] he came over to greet Barbara Tulliver, who has edited eight of his films. Ms. Tulliver said that on film sets Mr. Mamet is known to learn all the names of his crew members. And though she might not agree with all his political views, she praised his ability to create a culture of listening, even when there's a political disagreement brewing: "People," she said, "don't get a chance to listen to each other."


Commentary: Conservative artists need to learn to play the long game

novelist Andrew Klavan, City Journal, 11/7/12

Life is short, said Hippocrates, but art is long. There is a practical corollary to that great truth: elections are won and lost in the politics of the moment, but it's the culture that makes the nation.

In the aftermath of President Obama's victory, conservative political thinkers will have to ask themselves some hard questions. I'm an artist; I play the long game. To win that game, there are areas to which conservatives need to commit intellectual and financial resources. Conservatives think, when they have won an argument in the newspapers, the fight is over. Leftists know their Hippocrates. They know they can rewrite history in novels, on TV, and in the movies, and a generation later, their false versions will be accepted as truth. It's not that conservative ideas don't make their way into popular entertainment; it's that they always come in disguise. Even leftists love deeply conservative films like Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight, because they recognize good values when they're not forced to apply them to real life. But conservatives themselves quail when conservatives speak their values plainly in the arts. We don't need more conservative artists. We need an infrastructure to support them: more funding, more distribution, sympathetic review venues, grants and awards for arts that speak the truth out loud.  


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Commentary: 6 things the arts and conservative Republicans have in common

Trevor O'Donnell on his blog Marketing The Arts To Death, 11/8/12

Been thinking a lot about the arts and politics lately and couldn't help noticing some striking resemblances between the cultural community and the Republican party:

Losses: Both Republicans and the arts are losing their audiences. It's well-established in the arts, and an emerging trend in politics where Republicans' older, homogeneous, conservative base is shrinking.

Conservative Wings: Both the arts and Republicans have influential factions of long-time donors/supporters who resist change and who use their influence to maintain the status quo -- even when it means alienating potential new audiences.

Out of Touch Leadership: Both are run by leaders who have severely limited personal connections to tomorrow's audiences/voters.

Exclusionary Platforms: Both promote ideologies that divide the world - either explicitly or implicitly - into the welcome and the unwelcome.

Overemphasis on Fundraising: The Republicans' fixation on opening doors to unlimited giving resulted in the most expensive campaign in history, yet no amount of money could compensate for their inability to appeal to a large enough audience.

Old White People: While Democrats appealed to a broad, diverse coalition that looked like America, Republicans hammered the base in hopes of squeezing more die-hard supporters out of its shrinking demo.

The irony, of course, is that the arts are populated mostly by progressives who lean toward Democratic values, but when it comes to making our case to the world about our worth, relevance and ability to lead, we're Republicans through and through.

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