The Maynardville Bridgehead (Like war, but for theatre sissies)

20 Jan


  1. A strong position secured by an army inside enemy territory from which to advance or attack.
  2. Super-cool war terminology that a lazy writer can use to spice up the title of his/her essay.

Let us, you and I, sit for moment and calm the fuck down. As we breathe, using our diaphragms to suck the air in and push it out, we must endeavor to let go of the things we can change and the things we cannot and hope to christmas and the angels of malarkey that we will know the difference. “Why this plea for tranquility”, I hear you whisper, your hot breath tickling my earhole. Because, dear reader, I’m about to discuss Maynardville and I wish to do so without the usual mouth frothing and skin tearing that comes with a discussion, critical or favourable, of a theatrical institution, tradition, legend or practice.

A quick recap: (Previously on Uncle Loo): When I say Maynardville I refer to the annual staging of a Shakespeare at the Maynardville open-air theatre. This is a production of The Maynardville Theatre Trust, supported first and foremost by Artscape. I have publicly stated my dissatisfaction with past Maynardville productions and my previous blog was in anticipation of 2014’s “The Tragedy of Richard III”. What I learnt is that public criticism of such a sacred cow is frowned upon and viewed as troublemaking for troublemaking’s sake. Privately, however, there seems to be a lot of agreement, especially surrounding the issue of Maynardville’s quality (or lack thereof). Asking publicly for Maynardville to be better is akin to shitting on Athol Fugard’s forehead, even though privately everyone is shitting on Mr Fugard’s forehead and gleefully sharing the sight of their well aimed turds with their friends.

*Please Note: I have never, nor will I ever attempt to make a shit on Mr. Fugard’s forehead, nor do I condone such nasty business. The analogy (ANALogy, haha) was purely for illumination’s sake.

Back to the business at hand (And now for our feature attraction): It was a muggy Saturday night and I held in my left hand an opening night ticket courtesy of a friend and in my right a Castle Lager cooler bag which contained two bone-chilling Castle Lites, a bottle of cheap-as-dirt-but-not-fancy-dirt-more-like-dirt-poor-white-trash-dirt white wine and a single wine glass, wrapped ever so carefully in an unwanted page of that morning’s newspaper (the arts section, perhaps? Stop it, you sly buggers.). The ticket ensured my entrance and the booze ensured my full attendance and yes, my full attention. Not because of the booze’s effects, but because it kept me occupied, which is essential when attending a a 3-hour+ play with unpadded seats. Yes, perhaps fruit and cheese would be better, but I couldn’t goddamn afford it, okay? Who are you? My mother? (Okay, settle down, Loo. Diaphragm, remember?) During the next three hours, two significant things occurred: A decent amount of the audience left at the interval, and I, having stayed until the end, exited Maynardville Park disappointed that I did not enjoy the play.

At this point, you may be asking, but is that not what you (me) expected? And to tell you the honest cross-my-heart-hope-to-die truth, it was expected. I was not surprised that I didn’t like the play. I could name, almost scene for scene, performance by performance, what I thought was wrong with the play. There were moments I didn’t hate, as there is with anything, but in general I walked away thinking it was pretty much par for the course when it comes to Maynardville (which, in my opinion, is not good enough, to put it mildly.) My compatriots and I met for a drink afterwards and we laid out the problems we had, lamented moments which could’ve worked but didn’t, and laughed at instances we found ridiculous. But then, half way through another ice-cold Castle Lite, a draft this time (wearing my big-boy pants in front of my theatre cohorts), a feeling of melancholy settled over me. I wrestled with this feeling through late hours of that night and until the evening of the next day. Why did I not run home, as I expected to do and what was expected of me to do, and write with glee about the faulty production I witnessed?

My best guess, as I still struggle with it, is that I wanted “Richard III” to exceed my expectations and when it didn’t there was a sense of celebration amongst those I know and those who share my feelings about Maynardville. And this is what made me melancholic. We were glad the production failed (in our estimation and opinion, which is not shared by everyone). I reason that we were glad, because it’s another nail in the coffin and that it’s one step closer to an implosion which might lead to a serious change. The truth, however, might be closer to the childish joy of saying “I told you so.” We can revel in our own superiority by pointing at the failure of an institution that cannot win us over if it tried.

This is an not an attempt to vindicate Maynardville or “Richard III”. The play was not good. The faults outweighed the merits, but in saying that. I am admitting that there were merits. And there were. There’s one thing I can’t fault the production with and that’s the fact it was obviously trying. The director (the very talented Lara Bye), her mostly-miscast actors, designers and crew were definitely attempting to break from the confines of mediocrity for which Maynardville is so famous. That they couldn’t rise above the history is a shame, but should we not be hopeful that an attempt was made?

Another reason for my lugubrious mood may well be the realisation that Maynardville won’t change because no one wants it to change. No one. Not us, nor them. If Maynardville and its shadowy cabal of a board (I imagine them in a castle, pale, feeding on virgin boys and singing Prussian monastery hymns) continue to resist change, then we, their critics, get to continue our criticisms. Welcome to the circle of unimportant, egoistic bullshit. Am I ashamed of my critique? Not at all. Is there something to be done about it? Of course. Why haven’t we done it? Because it’s easier to point out Maynardville’s flaws than to make a serious, loud, positive attempt to change what bothers us.

I don’t want Maynardville to disappear. There I said it. I’m glad it exists. It has employed many of my friends and will continue to do so in the future. That is also the reason I will continue to demand an improvement. At the risk of being rousing, we, the schlubs who make up this tiny, fragile little industry, can fight for something better. It is not only our right, but our duty. What good is it to sit in the back row, hurl insults and claim fraud, and then refuse to take the broom and sweep up the trash that so offends our art. This is not a call for group-think or inclusion or even forgiveness, but if we want challenging theatre then perhaps it’s time we challenge ourselves.

Maynardville has earned our scorn. And scornful we shall be. But what happens then? We can make it hard for them to do another weak production, or we can make it easy for them to do a good one. I hope to choose the latter.


13 Responses to “The Maynardville Bridgehead (Like war, but for theatre sissies)”

  1. Diane Wilson January 22, 2014 at 12:42 #

    Well, the notices I have read have all been raves. What does that mean? I’m still nervous to go and see it as all my friends in the theatre business as opposed to the journalist business hated it. And don’t quote Marianne Thamm because Lara Bye and she have had a mutual adoration love fest on Facebook since.

    • Anonymous January 22, 2014 at 14:00 #

      Don’t’ be nervous Di. It is a science experiment in self involved denial and stupidity of another order. A scorched earth policy conducted by the apish. The notices are paid PR. Not in hard cash. Something far more valuable. Affirmation. Not all are that way. Go. See for yourself. Raise your expectations. That’s always a fun ride. But keep a smile and a sharp stainless steel object at hand. Stay true.

  2. Diane Wilson January 22, 2014 at 14:18 #

    Thanks anonymous. I WILL go before it closes but first I must build up my inner strength. That should take another week or two. I heard a rumour that there may be more cuts. I will wait for those I think.

    • guy January 22, 2014 at 16:15 #

      The above was my comment. There was an entry error. I must claim it. I am sure you have heard of burning bridges to light the way. I quote various persons of remarkable insight and honest creativity, “This has become personal”.

  3. Diane Wilson January 22, 2014 at 18:06 #

    Guy, I really admire your honesty. And your bravery. Wish I had seen your “King Lear”. You must have a great deal of faith in your own ability to be brilliant when surrounded by mediocrity. I, on the other hand, am always questioning my own judgement.

    • guy January 22, 2014 at 21:37 #

      I have faith in the brilliance and critically engaged curiosity of the people who work on the projects we do, without financial backing, together. They are generally excluded from the comfortable circle of denial we are discussing. Because they arrive armed with intelligent questioning, an innate distrust of obedience, and talent these pretenders would not know what to do with. They make fools nervous. They are inspired by the unusual. Distrust the pedestrian. Mock the pretentious. You, questioning your judgement, is how the fraudulent would have it.

  4. Diane Wilson January 22, 2014 at 21:47 #

    Well one thing I have in common with you and them is an innate distrust of obedience. Gives one the reputation for being “Difficult to work with”

  5. Diane Wilson January 23, 2014 at 08:30 #

    Yes I remember reading this article some time ago and it gave me a lot of comfort. I DO question everything and I DO hate the obvious. This is why I love working with Roy Sargeant. He LOVES me to question what he says and is very open to debate. When I go off on a rant, as I often do, he finds it amusing rather than threatening as some directors do.

  6. Diane Wilson January 23, 2014 at 08:31 #

    I get a feeling that we are rather taking over Loo’s blog.

    • Uncle Loo January 23, 2014 at 08:33 #

      Oh, please continue. I’m just waiting for the poor bastard who wants to jump in here and take you two on. This page hasn’t seen blood in quite some time.

      (Great discussion, by the way).

      • guy January 24, 2014 at 12:23 #

        Really? Welcome to Timidland’s drama dept. mental service economy. Wishing you the greatest success-much-happiness-lighter-menstruation-cycles-reconciliated-prostate-free-tooth-fairy-rape-fantasy-enhanced-politically-correct-catholic-satisfaction-choir-boy-acolyte-auto-sodomy-heterosexual-award-winning-smiles-all round.

  7. Diane Wilson January 25, 2014 at 13:41 #

    Maybe I will leave a comment after I have forced myself to attend a performance but for some reason I keep procrastinating.

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