Monday, December 29, 2008

The advantage of smallness: a New Year's wish

I've been reading Alex Ross's *The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century,* which blends political and cultural history with a history of classical music (and some jazz). Ross is the music critic for *The New Yorker.* His book is well-written and has a great companion Website where you can listen to lots of musical snippets.
Anyway, early in the chapter on the lonely Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, Ross quotes Czech novelist Milan Kundera (*The Unbearable Lightness of Being*) in a way that I think could be applied by analogy to our small theater community in Spokane:

In his 1993 essay collection *Testaments Betrayed,* Milan Kundera anatomizes the more peripheral of the European cultures, taking his native Czechoslovakia as a specimen. "The small nations form 'another Europe,'" the novelist writes. "An observer can be fascinated by the often astonishing intensity of their cultural life. This is the advantage of smallness: the wealth in cultural events is on a 'human scale': everyone can encompass that wealth." Kundera warns, however, that the familial feeling can turn tense and constricting at a moment's notice. "Within that warm intimacy," he says, "each envies each, everyone watches everyone."

Everyone can encompass our wealth: When I lived in L.A., there was tons of theater, but you couldn't possibly fight traffic on the San Diego Freeway to see it all. You lived in continual frustration: Culture, culture, everywhere, and only a few drops that you could drink. (It's a movie town, anyway.)
But here -- with our cute little miniature "downtown" and our handful of cultural offerings -- man, there may not be as much (by comparison with a megalopolis) but it's accessible, it's on a human scale. It's not so overwhelming that you can't make a point of going to see this show and that one and the next: the advantage of smallness. (Just look at the long list in "Upcoming in Spokane-area theater.")
Kundera's line about everyone (in a smaller-scale cultural environment) watching each other, pointlessly envying each other ... I think we know about THAT all too well.

So, a New Year's hope: that we would all re-affirm our desire to make good theater, to support one another, to bolster what's good and be forgiving about what's not.

And perhaps a New Year's resolution too: Bobo has half a mind (that's all you've ever had, you poser) to go over his theater reviews of the past year (I wouldn't wish rereading your reviews on my worst enemy) to select the lines he'd like back (you'll find a lot of 'em) -- that he'd like to rephrase or simply got wrong (that'll keep you busy).

Jack Bannon says, point out the good stuff, be gentle with the bad. In nearly every production, there's some of each.

Let's foster the advantages of smallness that we have and stop reinforcing the disadvantages.

[ photo: Milan Kundera ]

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At December 29, 2008 3:32 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Let Sibelius himself have the last word:

Sibelius' response to criticism was dismissive: "Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic."


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