I Believe in the Power of Art

John - Rochester, New York
Entered on November 9, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

I Believe in the Power of Art.

I also believe that soon many of us will have more time on our hands. Especially the CEOs of Lehman Brothers, of Washington Mutual and a raft of hedge funds now going over the falls. As we make our way from a $43 million penthouse on Park Avenue with our own private elevator to a ranch house with no ranch in northern Minnesota; as the memory of the nine-course tasting menu of seasonal vegetables recedes when we drive up to the McDonalds window; and as we search Target for reproductions of Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy to cover the spaces where the real Gainsboroughs resided, I propose that we pool our pennies and produce a musical.

I have some experience with budget-constrained theater productions. This year I revived the worst-reviewed play in the history of Broadway, Moose Murders. The Moose Murders revival received significant attention in full-blown articles in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and El Pas. And all for the unseemly price of $1,000. That price tag came with a two-CD cast album as well. Along this frugal way, I discovered that while we have been busy entertaining ourselves to death, weve been doing it at a price that makes derivatives look under-leveraged. You dont need, as in the case of Tarzan $15 million to produce a failed musical; and you dont have to evaporate $2.5 million to create a budget musical like this seasons Glory Days. You dont need a grant, an angel or a patron. What you need to produce a musical or any collaborative of art is a group of friends in your living room.

Try this: instead of renting a high definition DVD, buying another CD whose liner notes you can no longer read; instead of purchasing tickets to corporate-sponsored theater, sitting silently on velvet chairs at the ballet or sleepily trying to read the surtitles at the opera, bring a group together to create a work of art. In my case, I invited people I thought Id choose if I were running a WPA program: artists, underemployed wits, brilliant, articulate twentysomethings, people with whom I could winningly populate a desert island: the chemistry graduate student who sings Poulenc; the young, brooding jazz guitarist; the muralist who is a practicing Wiccan, the polymath who taught in Thailand; the contemporary antiques dealer who is often mistaken for Ben Franklin. We were all drawn together through the real need to create something apart from our own lives, without any commercial possibility. And we chose the worst possible vehicle to do it with.

The production rights to Moose Murders cost $75 courtesy of Mr. Samuel French, wherever you are. A space in our local arts center, the Rochester Contemporary, was free. The props were scavenged by several cast members who, as lifelong packrats, were waiting to populate a stage; the cast party was in a bowling alley; we invited the audience, who mostly paid for the beers. The playwright, Arthur Bicknell, gave us his blessing to make any changes we wanted and to add songs. Mr. Bicknell generously believed we couldnt muck up his work worse than Broadway producers. We spent our rehearsals arguing over art, artistic integrity, art movements, trading recipes and political views. We never spoke of our agents or our billing. We were never burned out, but often were rejuvenated. Compromise, careerism, and money were never on the table. And we woke up the morning of April 25 to find our living room art discussed at breakfast tables in 180 countries, thanks to the reach of the International Herald Tribune.

Back in the Fifties when there were social comedies instead of gross-out comedies, and when people would still go to see films in black and white, Judy Holliday starred in It Should Happen to You about accidental, whimsical fame . .Well, it happened to us in Rochester , New York . And it happened because we had an idea born in a living room. Financial calamities, a worldwide depression, or the loss of your old life are not entertaining circumstances. But every change comes with an opportunity for assessment and invention.

I believe that you, America, can reclaim art. This is your chance. Throw open the shutters (if you still have them) and sing out your window; dance on the blacktop; create, in your homes with your friends. Declining fortunes can make art more precious to each of us. Art is not a commodity. Don’t buy art just to fill your days and your portfolio; don’t support art that perpetuates corporate bloat; dont believe in art that is assembled by focus groups. Survive whatever personal apocalypse awaits you; create art to be alive.