One of the more appealing aspects of life in rural Missouri is that if one is to have a cultural life at all, one has to create it oneself. There are few cultural events available for consumption and the majority of those few are not worth attending, as I learned the hard way last year at Opera Iowa's very unmagical flute (with no flute). The very absence of credible opera, theatre (other than student productions which can be quite good), orchestral music, art museums and bookstores forces one to dig deep to uncover latent talents and bring them to the fore.
While we do have a local arts council that puts together monthly programs, fall to spring, its offerings are to be located somewhere on the spectrum between risible and out-and-out snore fest. They just announced this year's lineup and it would not be unfair to say that the concerts, films, lectures and other entertainments in my mother's nursing home in Sydney Australia were more inventive and rousing.
"The 2012-2013 Season is underway and season tickets are flying off the shelves! The first show is Sept. 22, True Men is an accapella choir from Truman University. Also this season you will see the acclaimed Branson troupe, Liverpool Legends, performing music of the Beatles...Wizard of Oz, a family friendly theatre production...and back by popular demand, 2nd annual Arts & Flowers, artwork paired with floral interpretations....just to name a few!"
The Mineral Area Council on the Arts specializes in missing opportunities to bring stimulation, joy, complexity and energy to this region. I suppose it's so that people can remain in a half brain-dead stupor while the likes of Kevin Engler and JoAnn Emerson help legislate the transfer of wealth out of the commonweal. It's a serious problem for this region's survival and flourishing. So I am going to try my hand at directing Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit this fall. Even if I fail miserably at least I won't be baaaaing like a sheep in the audience at the Centene Center, or the voting booth for that matter.
I think it's going to be a blast, and I can't wait to see the audience reaction to a drama about a baby-killer, military coward, and cold-blooded lesbian shooting the existential merde in hell's drawing room, here in the Bible Belt. Provocative characters aside, I really am eager to have the questions Sartre raises in the play considered by people around here, possibly for the very first time. (Also, a PhD in philosophy somehow dropped out of the sky in Fredericktown, and may serve as dramaturg to the production. If so, the program notes themselves will be an education in existentialist thought, and I hope he'll consider giving some public talks in conjunction with the production.)
So why start a theatre of works in the public domain? To save royalty fees because it will be a poor theatre? Yes, but more than that, it's about not wanting to deliver via original innovative works any more narrative tricks for power to use against us in their media campaigns and political theatre. About 8 years ago an old friend of mine was hired by the Pew Foundation to conduct a nationwide survey on the state of American theatre. I found that very suspect, that Pew was suddenly interested in supporting new plays. But when you consider that in Manufacturing Consent Noam Chomsky reminded us that power rules through propaganda and indoctrination it made sense that, on the cheap I assure you, they could get the credulous playwrights (with my friend as Pied Piper) to deliver fresh modes of narrative persuasion, the improbable but “true” plot twists, and so on.
I'll have none of that. I refuse to wittingly deliver any tricks of the trade to power for their nefarious purposes. Besides it's not necessary for my honorable purposes—awakening, invigorating, refreshing, stimulating, jump starting imagination and creativity, delivering vocabulary, the art of conversation, how to think, problem-solve, if only to offer a countervailing force to language impoverishment—that alone! As it is there's plenty of material, most of the theatrical oeuvre I would venture, that will be daisy fresh to audiences in the 573. After Sartre, I want to stage Genet's The Maids. After Genet, Chekhov, O'Neill, Ibsen, commonplaces elsewhere, but rarities here. But first, No Exit.