Monday, November 17, 2008

Oh Play That Thing!

Thursday I was feeling confused and irritable because I had watched an incomprehensible play in my theater class. Basically, a guy starts an argument with his friend because his friend said, "C'est bien, ça" ("That's great") and drew out the "biiiiiiieeenn" and paused before the "ça." The guy found this condescending, and the play goes from there. At the end, nothing is resolved. I suppose I need to practice my abstract-emotional French.

But then I went to a see Paula Spencer by Irish (and popular in NYC) playwright Roddy Doyle, in French translation. That play wasn't hard to understand at all. In fact, it was very simple, so simple that I wondered why it had been translated in the first place. All the interesting Irish inflection and vocabulary was gone, and what was left wasn't terribly groundbreaking. But after the show, the theater held a Q&A with Roddy himself, the best part being the French translator who scribbled down his entire 10-minute answers and then repeated them in French. The audience was a mix of French, Irish, British, and American - when Roddy spoke, certain members of the audience would react, and when the translator spoke, the rest would react. I happened to have been seated next to a fellow Bostonian, who convinced me to try to talk to Roddy after the discussion. So I asked him to sign my program and whether or not he thought the Irish government was generous with its theaters (always on task, I am). He said he didn't know because he wasn't sure what qualified as "generous," but he suspected something better than America but not as good as France.

The following day I had my History of Cultural Policy class and my Theater Management and Economics class, where I guess it was talk about the USA day. First, the history professor got in an argument in which banging on the desk actually occurred: a student mentioned the existence of private foundations and the theoretical possibility of theaters getting money from them, to which the professor responded, "Non non non! There's no stability that way -- it has to come from the government, it has to be the law." I knew I was going to be dragged into this at any second, and then she started pointing at me: "Ask her! Ask her! Ask if artists in the US get any money. Ask her!" No one said anything; then finally a different student said, "So, do artists in the US get any money?" I said, "Sometimes - it depends," but the professor insisted at that point that we get on with the classwork.

Economics class was taught by the professor's much more interesting assistant, who it seemed was more of an expert on economic theory. She touched on the expense of producing art in the US, and as the students were saying, "Wow, that's crazy," she said, "But who has the most grands artistes?" Another student said, "And America has the best athletes. Well, there are more of them than there are of us." The professor said that if you count all of Europe, there are more Europeans than Americans, but still not nearly as many big names. So why does this happen? I'm not an expert on the topic, but it seems to me that even though France distributes more money to its citizens, the US of course has more money, both in the government and privately (I've worked with private donors for 4 years...American industry reaches the farthest corners of the globe and there are plenty of filthy rich people in the country) and if someone has the potential to do great work (and, as an added bonus, generate more money), that person will get funding, and a lot of it, from somewhere. The difference lies in the way the money gets distributed. Perhaps American artists strive for excellence because they know they won't survive otherwise.

Of course, there is the question of the culture of innovation in America that doesn't exist in France. The school system here is so specialized; they put students on a professional path that plays to their strengths, but that doesn't seem to leave much room for creativity. But I didn't say that part out loud. Also though, making money isn't such a priority here. But I later heard the professor talking to a student, saying that France was 10-15 years behind the US. Interesting - it's 1993 in France? Shouldn't they all be wearing flannel?

Photos of Père Lachaise cemetery on are facebook. Here is a video of the Eiffel Tower glittering as it does the first 10 minutes of every hour at night. Sorry for turning the camera sideways. I though it would take a verticle shot. For those of you who know the Tiger Lillies, I happened upon a shop that was playing their album. I was trying to be subtle with the camera, so please excuse the low and jumpy angle. The shopkeeper knew them but had never seen them -- I told her she should to get the full experience.


Anonymous said...

Education regarding creativity is similar in East Asia. Very few people get left behind by the school system, but it really does put everyone in the same box.

So if artists' funding is the 'law' in France, is it as politicized as it has been in the USA? I am thinking specifically of NEA funding and some Republicans who have an aversion to anything avant garde.

Sarah said...

I want to see French people wearing flannel!

Also, my Frenchie colleague had a very odd conversation with our professor (in the middle of class...) about some genre of French film that involved visitors from the past coming to the present. Do you know about this? It sounds like Back to the Future, a little bit.

Sarah Krasnow said...

sorry for late comments...Hey Alex, your question requires a long answer but the short one is, thanks to sarkozy, yes!

Hi Sarah Z- have not heard of that movie but will ask around!