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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Theater Is Not Virtuous

posted by on October 25 at 10:31 AM

KUOW’s Marcie Sillman is doing a multi-part series on Seattle theater that is mostly harmless, if superficial.

But one theme in her series really gives me hives. There is nothing, zero, zip, zilch, nada, null set, NOTHING virtuous about attending live theater. There is nothing secret or mystical about the connection between audiences and performers. A bad night of theater is no more salutary than a bad night of TV. It’s that kind of snotty, self-righteous attitude that turns people off theater. (Well, that and the terrible productions they’re being asked to improve themselves upon.)

I would also like to bitch about one more thing, which is this edition of Weekday, a lazy compilation of the Marcie Sillman stories supplemented by live commentary by Misha Berson. Steve Scher is incompetent. With about five seconds before break, he invited a guy to talk about On the Boards and the risks it takes (a theme notably missing from the rest of the show). The poor guy got about as far as “Spalding” before Scher cut him off with something like “That’s great, you like On the Boards. Onto the break!” Obnoxious.

In closing, I would like to say, duh, theater is competing with the internet and movies. But don’t expect me to feel sorry for you, Mssrs Artistic Directors. Make me excited to get out of the goddamn apartment.

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Steve Scher was totally messing up left and right this morning. it was irritating. also, note to stranger web devs -- your comment popup seems to have lost onload self.focus :)

Posted by charles | October 25, 2006 11:02 AM

One thing theatre producers need to remember is that it costs a lot more on average to see their shows. So it had BETTER be good.

Posted by Gomez | October 25, 2006 11:07 AM

Ahem... more than to see movies or TV, I mean.

Posted by Gomez | October 25, 2006 11:08 AM

Steve Scher is incompetent? The guy does a radio talk show 5 DAYS A WEEK on topics ranging from the mundane (today's topic) to interviewing Annie Leibovitz and moderating a debate between Bill Gates Sr. and Frank Blethen. And that was only the first 3 days of this week! Give the guy a break...

Posted by pablocjr | October 25, 2006 11:30 AM

Yup, Steve Scher's job is hard. All the more reason he's not the guy to do it.

Posted by annie | October 25, 2006 11:41 AM

I will always have a soft spot for Steve Scher. He was one of the only local journalistic types to treat me as if I had a right to be there when I was running my election campaign. Most of the others just blew me off as a party file, but he treated me like a legitimate candidate, even though I didn't have a million dollars in the bank, and I really appreciated that. His questions were to the point, thought-out, intelligent, and actually made me think about the issues, too.

Posted by Geni | October 25, 2006 11:47 AM

For a guy interviewing such interesting people, he certainly sounds completely bored the majority of the time.

Posted by weird | October 25, 2006 11:47 AM

Steve Scher's the best radio interviewer in Seattle.

Posted by DOUG. | October 25, 2006 11:59 AM

LOL Steve Scher fans. He ain't no Steve Pool.

I think the only ensemble that gets me consistently interested in their shows, sight unseen, is WET.

Posted by Gomez | October 25, 2006 12:05 PM

Steve Scher sounds like a bumbling doofus on the air. No matter the topic, he seems ill-prepared and fails to ask perceptive follow-up questions.

Maybe he's stretched too thin. Maybe he's sort of slow. But whatever the reason, KUOW needs to do something about it because he's wasting their airspace.

Posted by kuowfan | October 25, 2006 12:12 PM

But we digress - theater: Attending a crappy play production is substantially more unpleasant than a bad night of tv when you can just turn it off and toddle to bed or crack a good book . But poor live theater is spirit killing like attending an execution: We watch real human actors dying up there; we are surrounded by the bad karma of audience boredom, frustration and anger. We feel compelled to wait for intermission before leaving in a huff.

And on that note, avoid a bad production of "Orson's Shadow" at all costs. There might not be any other kind. Not sure.

Posted by Orson | October 25, 2006 12:15 PM


The production of "Orson's Shadow" I saw in NYC was pretty good, especially the guy playing Olivier, and the woman playing Vivian Leigh.

And the flip-side of your argument (which I don't discount in the least, having seen way more than my fair share of crappy theatre over the years), is that when theatre is really GOOD it is truly transcendent: awe-inspiring, mind-blowing and gut-wrenching, in part because you know that, even though the performance the night before or the night after may be just as good, it will never be the SAME. That night belongs only to you, the other people with whom you saw it, and the performers and technicians who made it happen. Nobody else, in the entire history of everything will ever get a chance to see it in quite the same way you did on that one particular night. That's why people still go to theatre, even when it turns out to be crappy theatre, because
we still crave that unique experience, and you simply can't get it from watching people on a screen, large or small.

Posted by COMTE | October 25, 2006 12:50 PM

I've never thought there was anything particularly virtuous about attending live theatre, but I sure as hell hope some people at least find it enjoyable, or I'll have to quit playing dress-up and find another hobby. There's no way I'm ever going to get cast in anything other than community theatre, but I surely do love doing that. Can't do it without audiences, so bless you, all of you who do go and enjoy it.

Posted by Geni | October 25, 2006 1:03 PM

scher needs to drop the cpt. kirk radio voice and it would be a lot easier to listen. /end tangent

Posted by charles | October 25, 2006 1:19 PM


Re WET: right on. And the Marcie Sillman shows conspicuously failed to mention them. Out of touch much?

Posted by annie | October 25, 2006 1:58 PM

"Dear KUOW, In case you didn't know, the Stranger is the only media outlet in town with street cred to do hip, arty cool things like theater reviews. We've cornered the market on being snotty and self-righteous..."

(To Amy Wagner: try not to break an ankle climbing down off your motherfucking high-horse.)

Posted by Why Do I Even Bother Anymore | October 25, 2006 2:08 PM

Dear Annie: I am certain the Stranger staff receives lots of comps to a variety of theatre, concerts, symphony, opera, etc. Take advantage of them all and collect some knowledge. Live anything is always a risk and when it works, there is nothing more sublime. At 25, I suspect you've not been exposed to much theatre, musicals, dramas or otherwise and have never been there for when the magic truly works. For instance: opening night of "Hairspray" at the 5th Avenue Theatre - or Jane Eaglen nailing Wagner's "Liebstod" or Sean Griffin transforming himself into Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol". What about "Doubt"?

Insofar as Steve Scher is concerned, you're basically insulting one of the great radio talents in this part of the world, and if you don't like him, don't listen to him. When he's on the air, he's basically multi-tasking way beyond your limited imagination - but I guess you would have to be there. Now unfortunately, you never will be.

Posted by QUEL DOMMAGE | October 25, 2006 2:21 PM

Make that 26, s'il vous plait. I saw more Seattle theater during my tenure as the Stranger critic than anyone that year except perhaps Joe Boling. To answer your questions: No on opening night of Hairspray, no on Jane Eaglen in Liebstod, yes on A Christmas Carol, yes on Doubt.

If this is a random theater experience competition, Dommage, did you see Bill Irwin in Waiting for Godot? WET's Crave? Rhonda Soikowski in Flo & Glo? Hedwig at the Jane Theater? All these performances I hold dear in my memory. I'm not biased against live performance. But theater is not a glorious mysterious secretive wonder of the world. And it's not made of vitamins either.

As far as Steve Scher is concerned, either you're crazy, or you're his kid brother, or radio in this part of the world is in a decrepit state.


Posted by tis a dommage i'm not a whore | October 25, 2006 3:23 PM

It's much more fun to leave live theatre in a huff when it's bad though. You can get up, make noise, say "this play sucks", and walk out saying "what a frickin stupid play".

And they HEAR you.

Can't do that in a movie theater. The producers, directors, and actors are all elsewhere.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 25, 2006 5:14 PM

AW: 1) Yes - 'tis a dommage; 2) No - 'tisn't a random theatre competition.
3) I would recommend "Company" to you but you might have to do some homework. It is - after all - a 36-year-old mastodon that showcases 14 people drinking too much, smoking pot and having meaningless sex. However, it's worth the price of admission (in your case, free) to hear Kendra Kassebaum rattle through "Getting Married Today" at intelligible warp speed. Plus "Company" is where people go to get their Sondheim Gay Card re-validated. Like London - if you're tired of "Company" - you're tired of life.

Posted by KWELL DOMMAGE | October 25, 2006 10:53 PM

Hello Annie:

I heard through a friend that you were writing about theatre again, and he directed me to this site, and I found he was right, though you're not reviewing theatre, so I guess it wasn't all that important.

But I think that's certainly an interesting thought, that going to theatre isn't virtuous. And from what you say here, as well as what you've said in the past, it doesn't seem to be a particularly enjoyable experience for you, either.

Which makes all sorts of people in this town glad you're no longer reviewing theatre.

Now, just a query: what do you think IS virtuous? Going to church? Going to movies? Writing movie reviews for The Stranger?

Perhaps if you gave some idea of what you assume to be "virtuous," all of us theatre enthusiasts would have some idea of what you think is lacking from theatre.

As for me, I would say that good theatre is never virtuous. It's anti-virtuous. It's unabashed pleasure, of the mind, the heart, and the soul. It's sinful. Long may it remain so.

Posted by John Longenbaugh | October 25, 2006 11:31 PM

I don't think theater is lacking virtue, Mr. Longenbaugh. Virtue is a moral judgment that has little to do with art and nothing to do with viewing art.

OED: "Possessing or showing virtue in life and conduct; acting with moral rectitude or in conformity with moral laws; free from vice, immorality, or wickedness; good, just, righteous."

Posted by annie | October 26, 2006 11:39 AM

Out of touch indeed.

The thing with WET that draws me to them is that they try to challenge themselves, to a person, and the art with every production they do. Most troupes just want to sell tickets.

Posted by Gomez | October 26, 2006 2:29 PM

WET was featured a few months ago on KUOW. We rather like them, too.

And Steve thinks you're adorable, Annie.

Thank's for listening!

Posted by Jeremy | November 9, 2006 2:44 PM

WET was featured a few months ago on KUOW. We rather like them, too.

And Steve thinks you're adorable, Annie.

Thank's for listening!

Posted by Jeremy | November 9, 2006 2:44 PM

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