I have mentioned Randy Gener’s critical work on this blog in the past, and I’m glad to be able to point the way to Mr. Gener’s own Web site, in the theatre of One World, which recently underwent a redesign. I have a very high regard for the work of Mr. Gener, a former senior editor of American Theatre magazine and the winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for 2007-2008, and am glad to see that it is now appearing regularly on the Internet through this blog; recent entries have included items on “rasaboxes” (a new form of theatre training developed by Richard Schechner), Lynn Nottage’s play Ruined, and a unique look at Pina Bausch and photography. Mr. Gener holds himself to a high standard in this long-form journalism — perhaps a model for young theatre journalists — and he provides an extraordinarily broad perspective on world theatre.
His blog comes to my attention on the eve of the eighth anniversary of Superfluities Redux (1 October marks its formal birthday) and engenders some brief thoughts about the theatrical blogosphere, which has, over those eight years, evolved to a certain extent. Mr. Gener’s blog, a showcase of his own individual work, is a bit of a throwback to the first generation of theatre blogging, in which individuals took advantage of the new medium to develop their own thinking in common with others (the comments sections of blogs have always been a central feature of the form, differentiating them from print journalism and encouraging conversation). But with age comes change, and eight years defines several generations in the Internet age. The second generation of blogs was more collaborative in nature (Leonard Jacobs’ Clyde Fitch Report and Time Out New York’s “Upstaged”) and exploited the overhyped potential of the new medium; these did not last long, eventually undermined by their own attempts to generate controversy and more numerically significant readerships through bluster and insult. Over the past year or so, a third generation has emerged: Arena Stage’s Howlround and 2AMt, the first theatre blog to be based on a Twitter feed, appear to have been indirect responses to the controversies engendered by Outrageous Fortune, the 2009 book that elevated doubts about the relevance and structural integrity of the American theatre to a screaming pitch. Groupthink can be just as insular and exclusive as individualthink, to coin a clumsy phrase, and when under the aegis of an institution like an “American Voices New Play Institute,” runs the risk of becoming yet another institution that keeps some individuals out and others in.
While the first generation of bloggers may have appeared to be solipsistic to a fault, this third generation beats them by far. These blogs are written by various individuals speaking to other various individuals within the profession, a form of inside baseball to which neither of the first two generations were immune. But those first two generations also presumed a general readership, not merely a readership among dramatists, directors, designers and performers, a presumption which this third generation does not share. A glance through the posts at both of these blogs indicates that the role of these journals is to circle the wagons in a sense, and both demonstrate a fear that theatre continues to lose its audience — they both assume from the outset a culturally, politically and socially instrumental role for an art form which, at its best, mitigates against social instrumentation in seeking to touch the individual spectator. What is lost too in this third generation is the individual voice, a voice defined in the first generation by the maintenance of these blogs by individual writers exclusively.
So Mr. Gener’s individual voice then is again welcome, as is that of British critic Dan Rebellato, author of the fine 1956 and All That, whose Spilled Ink blog just opened recently and featured a few days ago a fine post on the individual playwright’s responsibility (and the abandonment of that responsibility in some cases) for the “dramatic shape of the evening.” Despite the obituaries being drafted for the medium by those with their own careers and egos to promote (“I can’t think of any blogger but myself who is unafraid of courting controversy,” writes the author of that draft death notice), Mr. Gener’s and other blogs are still taking up the slack that print journalism is leaving behind. Parabasis, one of those first-generation blogs, has announced an upcoming “special issue” on the late American playwright Lanford Wilson, which will feature essays and remembrances, a project which may not have a potential outlet anywhere but on the Web. And just this morning I turned to my Google Reader to find this excellent post by Alison Croggon on Shakespeare’s politics as part of a review of a production of Julius Caesar, in which she writes:
As Shakespeare can demonstrate, theatre is a powerful simulacrum of the political. Indeed, politics is often pejoratively described as “theatre”, mostly by people with little interest in theatre itself: if politics is mere “theatre”, then it is considered to be with without meaning, a dumbshow of empty gesture that has nothing to do with “reality”. There is, however, a profound relationship between politics and theatre: theatre, as a conscious simulacrum of reality, mimics how politics itself is a show of simulacra, a series of simulations. Politics is a primary maker of simulations that stand in for reality, claiming to be the thing itself, and which at last infect the real with their own reality. Another is art.
You won’t find this in your local paper either, and I’m guessing not in too many of these third-generation theatre blogs. But it is written, as Mr. Gener’s journalism and criticism is written, not merely for the practitioner but as a thoughtful bridge from an art to a spectator, doing the best that criticism can do. And it remains in the blogosphere. I’m delighted to still find it here, as healthy as ever, and to offer a little of my own.