On Staying Hungry
[This is an old piece of writing from September 2012.]
I went to see a Broadway play tonight. When I first moved to New York, I saw many a Broadway play, mostly because I was getting free ticket offers for them. Slowly, as I spent more time here in New York City, as my work became about doing different things than the things being done on Broadway, I stopped seeing Broadway plays. In an act of bad theatre studentship, I couldn’t remember the last thing I’d seen before tonight--but whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t on Broadway.
I won’t name the play I saw, because this isn’t a review of a Broadway play. I saw a Broadway play that is incredibly relevant to the times right now, that was an adaptation of a play by a very famous playwright, and that had a cast of people who’ve been doing plays before Broadway. These are the makings of a good night at the theatre.
And it was. It was a good night. It was so fucking good that that’s all it was. There were bad parts, and there were parts that were better than good, but it all evens out to being so fucking good that I found myself pounding out the words faster than my fingers could find my notebook: stay fucking hungry.
I want to watch something that’s hungry for something, for anything–-for understanding, for change, for humor, for disgust, for answers, for questions, for any god damn thing. We’re called starving artists for a reason: if we’re not starving for something, what’s the fucking point of doing it in the first place? The artist must always be hungry. Food is a valid hunger! Real, honest-to-god, no-metaphors-involved food is a valid hunger. Hunger lends an edge to our art, whatever that art is. You don’t have to be poor to be a starving artist, but you have to be starving to make your god damn art.
Most theatre I see today is hungry for the lack of hunger, hungry to be satiated–-no more, no less, not even desperate in its hunger, just slightly peckish. It aims to speak to everyone, to be understood by everyone, to land the jokes with everyone, to get the applause from everyone. Standing ovations riddle the theatre like a disease right now, because we’re all so scared of asking more from the artists on stage. People getting up there every night should be commended for the effort of getting up there every night: it’s fucking hard. But god damn it, those people should be held to standards of something, to be asked to make me think something, feel something, to be required to feel or think something themselves, before I get to my feet to celebrate them.
This politeness, this peckish theatre only serves to create a glazed-eyed, appropriately full audience. This sating will eventually kill off any real hunger anyone–-artists, audiences alike–-suffers. We will have a house full of guests who “could eat,” and they will eat just the right amount of dinner, and relentlessly praise the perfect helping they’ve been served, and they’ll leave the table politely conversing about the next moderately proportioned dinner they have lined up, and so on and so forth until they die a polite death, and people politely forget about both the diners and the chefs, and society moves on.
This Broadway play that I saw tonight was about how the Majority is a disease-–you read that right, the fucking play itself was about how the masses control everything by stifling it. There’s a whole speech in it about class not mattering, education not mattering, upbringing not mattering; what matters is a supreme dignity, a nobility of spirit that moves one forward at all times. And this play was done in beautiful period piece costumes, on a fucking rotating set, in a theater in Times Square, for $67–-and that’s the cheapest ticket. I saw it for free; the seat I was sitting in cost twice the price of the cheapest ticket. The supreme irony of it all!
I’m tired of theater that’s scared to be smart, that’s scared to be boring, that’s scared to be subtle and misunderstood. I’m tired of tactics that aim at the lowest common denominator, of considering what the stupidest person in a room might think, of wondering if someone who wasn’t involved with something will “get it.” Today, I helped rearrange a poster, and the main issue we had to worry about was whether or not people would read far enough to get to certain information. My response is: fuck those people!
I have to believe–-and let’s all take a moment, take a breath together, because I’m about to bare my soft, sappy core here for all the vultures of the Real World to see–-I have to believe that if you, the Artist, are making the work you are fucking hungry for, someone out there will love it. I have to believe that there are two people out there hungry for the same thing, that there are 30 people out there hungry for the same thing. That if you show the world what you starve for, what the pit of your stomach absolutely aches to find, the world will welcome you with open arms. I have to believe that we’re all hungry for something, and that only by allowing ourselves to say it, to speak the incurable hunger that we’re all carting around, to ask the questions that haunt us day and night, to make the jokes that only we find funny, to get up in front of a crowd and reveal what we turn over in our minds day in and day out–-that only then will anyone actually be making some god damned art.