July 26, 2007



All this is well said, Mac. Well said.

Joshua James

Very well spoke, sir . . . especially in terms of data . . . in fact, I believe you'd be very interested in this article by John August called Silent Evidence http://johnaugust.com/archives/2007/silent-evidence

What I do on my blog is write about my experiences in theatre (and other things) and try to stay just with that . . . I try not to cast a wide set of dispersions over a whole community. Whether I succeed or not is up to the readers of my blog, but that's what I try to do. I am not speaking of theatre ideas for all theatre. Just want I'm working out for myself.

Oh, and I use the blog to promote my work, heh. Of course I do that.

I would note that Scott has used me an example before of this NY "bias" or why he believes this is so. He said something to to the effect that I will pound my desk, etc, and demand that one can't make a living as an actor in Iowa but you can in NY, etc.

Really, it's again about data, as you note. I've worked as an actor, professionally, in Iowa and Nebraska, (I'm from Iowa) and don't know of many people who can do it professionally, year round, in those two states, just as I wasn't able to do (so again, it was just about my experiences), unless they also teach theatre, it's mainly summer stock . . . I know people who make a good living in Minneapolis and of course, Chicago and Denver, but not Iowa - and I definitely know more people who work as actors here than in Iowa.

That's not to say theatre cannot be important in Rinard, Iowa, population of 250 souls . . . just that, according to numbers, there are more opportunities in NY for actors and writers than there are in Rinard, Iowa . . . it doesn't mean that there are none, nor does it make theatre more important here than there (though one "could" make that argument if one wanted, it's not the argument I'm making) - it's only about numbers and opportunity.

So that's my take on it, before Scott hoists me up on a pinard as the guy that says New York is better than anywhere else.

I'm not that guy, and actually don't believe that about New York, just for the record . . .

And personally, I've never gotten why Scott's considered a must-read, but he and I are obviously oil and water which means I probably never will.

Joshua James

By the way, pigs IS big business in Iowa, I know that for a fact, my old man was a feed salesmen for a lotta years . . .

I don't know if this show is good or bad or insulting (maybe a combo of all three) but I can say this . . . pigs be big business in Iowa.

Which reminds me . . . does this mean PIG FARM was a NY comment on the provinces?

George Hunka

Thank you for your thoughts, Mac.

As I've been pointing out for some time now, the valorization of this ideal "community" or "tribe" (often arising out of some kind of misplaced idealism about human nature writ large) tends to displace the significance of the very individual aesthetic experience, even in the theatre. It's why I don't understand why people are laughing at some comedies which seem to me unfunny; it's why I may remain immune to some of the emotional manipulation that occurs in melodrama. (And this goes for any audience member, not just me.)

The theatre minima aesthetic posits an auteurist approach to theatre: and indeed this auteurism is necessary, if the theatrical environment is the bodied, speaking, spectacular representation of the poet's consciousness. The word remains central to the theatre, and the word belongs to the poet. All devolves from that, and a communitarian approach weakens, dilutes the strength of that individual consciousness. This is where tragedy resides, intensely.

The great dramatic artists of the century have always been greeted, at first, with bewilderment, ridicule, facile dismissal, even hatred: look at the early reviews of Brecht, Beckett, Pinter, Kane, Barker. Accused of being self-indulgent miserabilists or radicals, the contemporary theatre systems of their times (and those directors, actors, dramaturgs who worked within these systems, and in doing so perpetuated the aesthetic power structure of these institutions) relegated them to small theatres. Thankfully none of these artists compromised their vision one iota. Kane and Barker still remain on the margins (Kane's "Cleansed" is getting its New York premiere with the Soho Rep next season, nearly fifteen years after its London premiere; Barker's case is what it is; Pinter, in his years as a public intellectual, has been mercilessly chastised by the press and others).

The ameliorist theatre which finds its so-called meaning and truth in consensus and entertainment is the truly self-indulgent theatre; it ignores, pushes aside the inconvenient tragic vision.

Finally, I'll add to your discussion of "Death of a Salesman." The moment in the New Haven hotel room is indeed a transgressive moment for Willy, but the genre of that sociopoetic realism in which Arthur Miller specialized renders him a more pathetic than tragic figure: we feel sorry for him in the sense of that Aristotelian "pity," but is it tragic in that he has faced the wound in himself? Or does he remain, in his semi-madness, as blind to his fault at the end of the play as he is at the start?

For me the true tragedy is that Willy's death, despite Linda's final words, does not set these figures free. The culture which produced Willy hasn't changed. And I'll argue that it's partly because of Miller's conservative aesthetic in presenting this potentially radical awakening that it -- and our theatre -- hasn't changed. And this is out of fear of tragedy's truth about ourselves.

Joshua James

I would say that Scott's points are also refuted on No Shame Theatre's own website.

No Shame theatre, a community theatre experience, was founded in Iowa in the eighties and has spread across the country (with only a brief two stops in nyc) . . . it is the essence of local product in theatre.

Now if one goes to their website, www.noshame.org and goes to Iowa City (the link for that local site's happenings) and goes to the script library, I'd bet dollars to donuts one would see work at least comparable to Iowa 08 on there . . . making fun of Iowans, politics and theatre, all in that order, all ham-handed and redneck and sloppy (because that's what no shame is about) and yeah, you'd see great work, terrible work, and work in between, but it would be IOWA work, right?

And it wouldn't be that different from the show that got Scott all lathered up, I bet ya.

George Hunka

Ah, and lest I forget: congratulations on your recent IT Award nomination for Nervous Boy (well deserved) and the success of Universal Robots (sorry I missed it during its recent run).


I think the plural of organum is organum.

Scott Walters

Re: my "tragic flaw"

This is not about me, nor is it only about theatre. It is about a culture. It is about a mass media that regularly focuses on the metropolis to the near exclusion of rural life and the south, and when it does refer to them, does so using demeaning stereotypes almost exclusively. The theatre follows that trend. So is there a NY aesthetic? There is a metropolitan coastal attitude that privileges certain types of content over others.

I refer you to your own link of non-musical plays: do you see any that seem to be set in the south or a rural community? What I see are some international plays, some classics, and some plays that SOUND as if they take place in NYC. So what, you say? In the current theatrical climate, mostly NYC plays get produced across the country. Films and television are also centered in NYC or LA, and also reflect the experiences and attitudes of that place.

Let me ask you a question: What is the ratio of television shows set in big cities to television shows set in the south or in a rural setting? Or if that is too hard, name some TV shows set in the south or a rural setting. Next: when was the last time you saw on TV or in a movie a southern police officer who wasn't represented as a stupid racist? When was the last time you heard a southern dialect that wasn't being used as shorthand in support of a stereotype? When was the last time you saw a farmer -- and I mean a contemporary farmer, not some historical "Little House on the Prairie" farmer -- who wasn't presented as a hayseed? These characterizations are based on stereotypes that are insulting and offensive.

In Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," Delacroix's first meeting about his new African-American show has a writing staff who are all white. When he expresses his frustration with this, and wonders why there are no black faces around the table, the writers all chime in with a series of reasons based on racist stereotypes that Delacroix caps with "and maybe they couldn't put down their crack pipes long enough to apply." At the end of that film, Lee strings together a long montage of racist images from cartoons and films over the years. Each one, taken separately, might seem harmless; taken together, they support racism.

In academic terms, this is known as "cultural hegemony," a term coined by Antonio Gramsci: "It means that a diverse culture can be ruled or dominated by one group or class, that everyday practices and shared beliefs provide the foundation for complex systems of domination." These shared beliefs are created by the repetition of images that are internalized by the culture, including those that it insults. To see this in action, read Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," which is a powerful illustration of the destructive power of internalized racism.

What are the effects of internalized geographism? Children on farms or in the south are regularly told that their lives are boring, their values are reactionary, their history is despicable, their accents are ignorant, and their beliefs are evil. They rarely see anything that looks like their own lives, that reflects their own experiences, or that supports their own values. Rather, they are fed a steady diet of cosmopolitan values, morality, and ideology. They are told that, if they are smart, they will migrate to a big city, which is where all the smart people go. They are told that farming is of little value, that life is only valuable if lived at a torrid pace, and that concrete and streetlights are more exciting than grass and starlight.

This is hegemony, plain and simple. And like most hegemony, those who perpetuate it aren't even aware they are doing so. They have internalized the images so thoroughly that they innocently reproduce them without thinking. IT isn't until somebody draws their attention to those images, and forces them to see them for what they are, that they begin to understand.

No, I have not read the script for "Iowa 08," but I have for nearly fifty years been fed a regular diet of these stereotypes enough so that I can recognize the clues pretty easily. It doesn't take a genius to see from the "Iowa 08" evidence that this material is insulting. But if it makes you feel better, I will condemn only the YouTube video and the blog posts. Either way, the argument still stands: the American culture, most of which emanates from either NYC or LA, presents a skewed, stereotypical, and insulting view of the lives of rural and southern people, and also valorizes life in the metropolis. I would be happy to stand corrected should my attention be turned to overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Finally, I am not insulting your community, I am calling on your community to respect the members of other communities.

And just a sidenote to George: not everybody shares your cynical view of "human nature," nor feels that the individual voice of the artist is sacrosanct. For most of history, the artist was a part of a community, and wrote to address that community. It is only since the advent of Romanticism that artists have put their own "vision" ahead of the needs to their community.

George Hunka

Scott, I wouldn't do the work I do if I didn't feel that I need to address that community. As I always have. What I don't trust is anyone dictating what the needs of a community are. Down that road leads the power of the censor and the police.

Joshua James


Dodged every question.

Wow. What a mess. Man.

Is this gonna be one of those things where he says, I didn't really say what I said, and I didn't really believe what I said, I was just testing ya?

I'm out.

Joshua James

My previous comment was in reaction to Scott's comment, not George's . . . just an fyi . . .


>This is not about me, nor is it only about theatre.

But is it about theater at all? I'm guessing that the reason you're dodging my question (which I'm hardly the first to ask) is that you are hard-pressed to come up with any examples of New York City theater that you have seen recently or with any regularity. Yet you continue to write extensive condemnations of the "NYC aesthetic". Why a person would spend such a large amount of time condemning something he seems to have little or no exposure to continues to baffle me.

Scott Walters

Mark -- yes, you are right, I only get to NYC occasionally to see theatre there. But one needn't be there to know about it. There are scripts available, and articles galore, not to mention the NYC-dominated theatrosphere. What you haven't explained is why this is relevant. Are you really trying to deny that the center of media in this country is NYC and LA? Are you really trying to tell me that most media doesn't reflect that orientation? Or are you trying to tell me that NYC values, subject matter, and aesthetics are universally shared by the nation? No, what you and Joshua are trying to do is derail a larger message by focusing on the messenger and his motivation. I will not argue about me. Argue about the issue.


Organa (pl.)



While there remains a question about whether or not one can judge an "aesthetic" by reading scripts and "articles", I would still welcome some examples of scripts and articles that support your argument about the "NYC aesthetic". It's difficult to discuss the "issue" when it's not clear that the issue exists anywhere but in your head.

It also seems like you are not-so-subtly trying to shift the focus of your arguments from "theater" to "media". Yes, New York and LA are the centers of media, but (as media is genrally understood to mean television, radio, newspapers and magazines) what does that have to do with your criticsm of New York theater and its "aesthetic"?


This will probably not go over well, but I think to some extent both sides are right, and both sides are overreacting. Scott is correct that there is very much an IMAGE that New York holds it self superior to the rest of the country, save LA and in some cases begrudgingly Chicago. For example, the editor of the New Yorker told a group of regional critics "If it's not in the New Yorker, it's not in the culture."

Do all New Yorkers think that way? NO. I think there may possibly be some overreaction going on on both sides.

There very much is the stereotype of the ignorant hick, just as there is the stereotype of the elitist New Yorker (ex. girl with a $1500 handbag saying she'd never be caught with bridge and tunnel people.) Some of my friends/family have talked to me about the difficulty being taken seriously in Brooklyn (Though is sounds like that may be changing.) There's a parallel nationwide.

To quote Mark "Why a person would spend such a large amount of time condemning something he seems to have little or no exposure to continues to baffle me." Why so many spend so much time condemning (on either side) continues to baffle me.

@Mac We don't see bear pits et al threatening theatre like TV and film do. The Elizabethans did, probably the plague was more of a threat though not from competition. My point was more there has always been and always will be competition for an audience's time.

We can try to be more like the competition, or use the strengths inherent in the form to give an experience that film and TV cannot. I'm in the give 'em what the flat screen can't camp.

Scott Walters

To respond to the "why spend so much time" question: because New York floods the market with its message, whether it is a message about what is worth writing about, what "exists in the culture," or what values should be held. The myth of NYC dominates the imaginations of young theatre artists, and sucks talent away from areas that could use theatre more than NYC needs yet another actor.

The stereotype Tony mentions of the elitist New Yorker is more than balanced by many, many images of New Yorkers as competent, savvy, sophisticated, insightful, cool, hip, and so forth. Can we say the same for the image of the "hick"? This is about dominant culture and minority culture.

And while Mark may see my referencing of the media as a change, and wish to focus on theatre alone, the point I made was that "Iowa 08" was another example of insulting stereotypes in the media. If, Mark, you would like to point out the vast number of OOB productions set in southern or rural America, then I will stand corrected. Since you're there in NYC, and as you seem to repeatedly need to repeat, I'm not, then please use your cultural knowledge to point out these plays I am missing. And then point out all the films and TV shows that present an image of southern or rural culture, and the films. I'll wait patiently.


It's entirely possible that I don't write very much about the South because I don't live in the South. But I write far more often and more brutally about the Northeast, where I live. Should I apologize for picking on suburban househusbands from NJ?

Joshua James

Actually, I've refuted your argument re with the Iowa No Shame example, and in countless other ways, before I "made" it about "you" and would add that "you" made it about "you" when you accused the New York Theatre Community (of which I am one) of Bullshit politics toward Iowans (of which I am one) with regard to one single showcase playing less than 16 performances, and did so with little evidence to back it up.

I would note, as I did earlier, that there is a significant amount of my work set in the midwest, and addresses issues therein.

And I know other Iowa writers who would probably chortle at the thought that Iowan's are being somehow persecuted by Iowa 08 . . . as if a showcase is all the evidence one needs to show New York hates the rest of the country, which seems to be your position, in a way.

Furthermore, Iowans aren't being discriminated against, no one's keeping them from voting (far from it) no one tells them they can't be married (unless they're gay, but that has nothing to do with being Iowan, only with being gay) can't make the same amount of money someone else does, can't do what they want, so to compare this show to racism against Iowans is an insult to anyone who's ever been a victim of real racism and discrimination.

And last but not least, if you wish, you could write and direct your work, seeing as that you're unhappy with the showcases being staged regarding Iowa and any other state that is not New York or California.

And I'll leave it at that.


I'm not the one making generalizations here. Claiming that New York theater doesn't represent images of southern or rural people and then challenging me to do the legwork to prove otherwise would be a bit of a neat trick if I were to fall for it.

(However, off the top of my head: 110 in the Shade, Caroline or Change, Book of Days and other Lanford Wilson plays, Where We're Born, Hazard County, Anna in the Tropics, How I Learned to Drive, not to mention still-popular revivals of Tennessee Williams and Horton Foote. Plays by Alfred Uhry, Beth Henley, Romulus Linney...)

Also, it's not clear to me that even if these omissions did exist that they would be ipso facto examples of prejudice or myopia. Would it bother you if theater in rural Kentucky did not represent urban or northeastern culture?

Scott Walters

Mark -- It would bother me if rural Kentucky exported its work and dominated what is seen by the rest of the nation, as NY and LA do. If rural Kentucky's views on, say, Yankees was how northerners were constantly portrayed, it, too, would be wrong.

And you are not going to "fall for" doing the legwork the same way I am not going to "fall for" making this an argument about me or about theatre in isolation. The theatre is part of a larger canvas of representation, and if you can't deal with that, then that is showing a severe myopia.

Let's look at your list. "Anna in the Tropics" is set in 1929, and I said no historical plays. Same with "110 in the Shade." And let's see: "How I learned To Drive," about child molestation (great image there -- like we haven't had to deal with the incest BS forever), also set in the past. And "Caroline or Change," as much as I revere Tony Kushner, is about the favorite topic when writing about the south: racism, and is also set in the past.

My point, however, was not that plays about the south and about rural settings were NEVER done, but rather that they were rarely done, rarely set in a contemporary time period, and rarely free from stereotypes.

Freeman -- You don't write about the south because you don't live there. Good idea. Would that the "Iowa 08" folks had the same principle.

Joshua -- My comment "Exactly, Paul, exactly" referred to the following, which addresses your No Shame Theatre argument: "I mentioned earlier that I make fun of Iowa repeatedly as well, but it's a bit different when it's an outsider....It's similar to the Jeff Foxworthy redneck phenomenon. At the outset, Foxworthy had big Southern appeal because he (and his audience) knew that the material had a foot in reality even as it was pushed to ridiculous generalizations. But now it's gone Blue Collar national and the 'all in good fun' nature seems to come into question a little more. Foxworthy hasn't changed and the jokes haven't changed, but the audience has. When someone in New York (or Iowa City or L.A. or Montana) laughs at a redneck joke, they are still laughing at a generalization. But are they aware that it's a generalization? No doubt No Shame and Iowa '08 are working with material in the same vein. I'm just curious (and a little doubtful) if Iowa '08 also has the knowing wink, whether stated or not, that is naturally built in to No Shame's self-deprecation."

Joshua James


You're making a specious argument, over and over, one filled with generalizations that you accuse others of, it makes me tired of fighting, so I recuse myself officially . . . and again, I no not why so many refer to your blog and your writings, I do not.

Then again, Bill O'Reilly makes nothing but specious arguments, and he gets a TV show and fans, so therein must lie the answer.

Scott Walters

Go away, Joshua, just go away. And keep your promise this time.

Joshua James

Hey Scott,

You don't get to tell me, or anyone, what to do. Okay?

I am leaving this discussion, you bet . . . I always regret getting into these psuedo "dabates" with you, hence my own moaning about staying out of it, which is on me, you bet, but I've made no promises to you or anyone about it . . .

So let's be clear . . . this is Mac's house, he can tell me to go if he wishes, but not you . . . not here.

And I bow out primarily because, as far as I'm concerned, you've demonstrated that one can't reason with someone who doesn't speak the language.


Response to comments 4 and 6: Thanks for the clarification and kind words, George! I hope we'll get a chance to do UR some more.

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