Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Hyper-Narrative and You: The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of the Postmodern Direct Address

The Postmodern Hyper-Narrative occurs when a character in a play changes from directly engaging other characters, where they are living out the action of the play, to directly engaging the members of the audience, where they begin to describe all the action we are no longer seeing, as though someone were reading me a fictional first-person, past-participle narrative. This form of storytelling in our Theater has emerged from the crumbling specificity of the Postmodern Self-Reflexivity, which in turn stemmed from Brecht’s Epic Theater. And while Brecht certainly had good intentions (and I full-heartedly agree with having a consciously political theater), I fear the specific artistry of the Theater has been lost along this path into the Hyper-Narrative by not trusting in our audiences or demanding more from our artists.

Not to say there do not exist plays in which a Hyper-Narrative style works. Shakespeare perfected Dramatic Irony through use of soliloquies – an active form of Hyper-Narrative allowing characters to explore and externalize inner conflict. But more contemporarily, Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa’s The Mystery Plays, while maybe not a great play, handles this style in a very functional manner: Thematically, Joe Manning of Act One’s The Filmmaker’s Mystery and Abby Gilley of Act Two’s Ghost Children are alone in their respective journeys, making the use of Hyper-Narrative apropos to the storytelling. And the actual moments of hyper-narrative are reserved solely for the protagonist of each act, allowing them to work through their internal conflict externally with the audience, rather than explaining to the audience what conflict they would have seen had they been watching a play. Oh, wait…

And that is where the Hyper-Narrative of other plays fails the Theater – as in Disco Pigs, where most the story is told rather than lived, yet the brief moments of character interaction are so raw and beautifully compelling, or in irksome Postmodern productions like Outside Inn that lose purpose with Hyper-Narrative clutter, like the incessant use of multimedia that has nothing to do with the story being told. I am worried the artists behind these pieces are catering to an audience they expect to be inactive and unintelligent. Yes, the myth of an MTV generation is real (with the mouth’s of my coworkers filled with homophobic jokes and pop-culture references), but that will not change, our audiences will not Grow, if, in our Theater, we are not expecting anything of them – reading to them as though they are droning idiots rather than living with them hoping for that spark of emotional connection. And why are we reading to them? The audience has come to the Theater! – they can read a book in the comfort of their own home, can’t they?

This side of the Postmodern has let loose the canon of non-specificity. “Why?” doesn’t seem to be a very easy (nor important) question to be answering these days, as I watch books be turned into movies be turned into musicals with famous rock bands be turned back into movies. Of course, I admit as an artist my own difficulties with the question, but I am not so sure “why?” bears the same depth and meaning in the face of a $40 million price tag dangling on a Broadway budget. This causes me great concern for what others may think being an artist really means.

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