By Aaron Wigdor Levy, member of the 2011 Emerging Writers Group
I like beer. Probably a little too much. I spend a lot of time trying different beers and seeing what new styles breweries are releasing. If I find a beer I’ve never had before or a brewery I particularly like I could easily end up spending a little too much money on it. This whole beer thing has become a minor obsession of mine. So why is a member of the Emerging Writers Group writing about beer on the Public Theater Blog and what does it have to do with theater? A lot actually.
Most of the beer I drink would be categorized as craft beer. It’s made by small breweries that have a much different product and operate on a much different mentality than mass-produced commercial breweries like Budweiser and Miller. Fundamentally it’s still beer, but a wheat beer from a brewery like Sixpoint in Red Hook, Brooklyn is in no way comparable to a Bud Light. They’re technically the same thing, but completely different.
I see theater in the same way. It’s craft entertainment. Most people who go to the theater are looking for an entirely different experience than they'd get from a movie or TV show. It’s not to say one is better than the other; they’re just fundamentally different. Yes, they’re both forms of entertainment. You go to a theater and sit down with an audience to watch both, but they aren’t the same. And they shouldn’t be. Too often I see theater defining itself by what it’s not rather than what it is. Theater markets itself in the same way movies and television do. But it shouldn’t. Someone going to see a play is looking for an entirely different experience. They’re looking for a craft experience.
In the last few years there’s been a craft movement in the United States. It’s not just with beer. There’s an entire slow food movement based on regional cuisine. Farmer’s Markets have been popping up in more cities. Articles and blogs espouse the virtues of slowing down and finding out what we’ve lost in our go-go non-stop world. Old school butcher shops and barbers have popped up in trendy neighborhoods. Pickling and making soap is cool.
Why shouldn’t theater be included in this? So much of what I see in various craft movements are already in place in the theater world. A brewery is based in regional taste and pride. It’s outside the mainstream. Theater operates in the same way. Brewers come together to try to create their vision of a beer they want. It may be a lager or ale, a porter or a stout, but they’re trying to create the best beer they can. Breweries, like theater, mostly serve a local audience. They become a point of pride for that community. Theater should be the same. It’s a group of people creating something different outside of major corporate institutions in accordance with their own taste and style. Maybe producers think that they have to draw their audience away from television and film. But the moment they set themselves in direct competition with TV and film they miss what makes theater different. How about we, as theater artists, remember that.
Aaron Wigdor Levy is a member of the 2011 Emerging Writers Group and holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU. His plays include This is Not a Time Bomb, The Ball Player and Hunky Dory and have been developed or produced at The Public, The New Group, The Lark, and The Source Theater Festival.
This post is part of a weekly series from the Emerging Writers Group community of playwrights. The EWG is two-year playwriting fellowship at The Public Theater seeking to target playwrights at the earliest stages of their careers. In so doing, The Public hopes to create an artistic home for a diverse and exceptionally talented group of up-and-coming playwrights.