Debate Over Plan An Exciting Part Of Local Performance


I can't help but feel that something exciting happened in recent issues of the Payson Roundup.

That something was the (response) in the Mail Call section regarding a local production of "A Tuna Christmas."

The exciting part was that a work of art -- in this case a performance -- has riled up a public discussion. In the discussion were reports of indignation, praise, a defense, moral outcries, an assertion of a basic freedom, and differences in taste. But, unless it was just me, I also felt a sense of passion. There are so many tangents about the nature and definition of art that could be raised here, but I think the important aspect to focus on is that a creative work has inspired a public debate of sorts.

Isn't public debate usually a result of art, if not the outright intention? Public discussion naturally follows an artistic exhibition, but only if the public cares enough to be an audience. I think that that is the case here.

There was something in "A Tuna Christmas" that (moved) the audience to respond to it; that is a result of art. I'm not saying that the production was good or bad art, or that the sum affect was positive or negative. It doesn't matter if the play itself was not on par with Ibsen or Shaw, or if the lighting and staging were poorly executed. What matters is that it struck a note with the audience.

One of the contributors defending the production wrote, "I found it to be ... a very accurate slice of small-town life." Now, there's the proof in the pudding. What is art if (members of) an audience don't see or sense the relevancy of it to their own lives? One of the ways of personally assessing the value of a work of art is to view it through your own experience. When that work of art validates your experience, it validates your life. Often, we use works of art to express the deeper mythologies that enhance our lives.

When a critic, or unamused audience member begins to disparage the production, the person amused or validated by it will be on the defense. To rise to the defense of a work of art can be as personally rewarding as attacking a work of art on moral principals.

There is now a controversy and nationwide debate surrounding an exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York. The debate is centered around an exhibition titled "Sensation" where on display are several animal corpses in formaldehyde and a picture depicting Mary, the mother of Jesus, with elephant poo poo and pornographic images. There are some very poignant and passionate moral exceptions to the exhibit.

I don't mean to say that the exhibit shouldn't exist or that it is immoral in and of itself. Protesters, including New York's mayor, feel passionate about objecting to the exhibit on moral grounds, as they should be. Really, would we want to be a nation where an exhibit like "Sensation" could blow through town -- even New York -- without protestations? On the other hand, do we want to be a nation that refuses free speech and freedom of choice in viewing art exhibits?

The wonderfully refreshing thing about the "Sensation" exhibit and "A Tuna Christmas" production is that people are now talking about art. When people talk about art they realize they are talking about themselves. In talking openly and frankly about what we like and dislike, we begin to define ourselves, either as a community or nation. And who can blame someone for being passionate when talking about themselves, defining morality, or discovering they themselves are the loud neighbor next door and this is how they are represented. Art is a great tool of humanity. Some say it is even the incarnational attribute of God in human life.

It is at this point, I regretfully admit that I didn't see "A Tuna Christmas." It is to my own detriment, especially in light of the resulting discussion. But, you can bet I'll see it next time. Isn't that a goal of local theater, to secure and build an audience?

Here's a note to the cast of "A Tuna Christmas" who wrote in: There has always been, and will always be, a rift between artists and critics, but stay out of the fray and let the audience do its part. To paraphrase Ezra Pound, you can spot the bad critic when they start talking about the artist and not the work of art. And, yes, a public performance will generate criticism; accept it.

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