Writing for the London Guardian‘s theater blog today, Chris Wilkinson discussed an English ensemble’s decision to blog its creative process as it develops a show, and asked how a traditionally private interaction among artists might benefit or suffer from exposure. (I’d gone to the site, by the way, because he also brings up the Reader‘s Onstage item about a report on where McCain and Obama stand re arts policy.)
Steppenwolf Theatre’s had an artists’ blog for a little while now. Most of what’s on it is what you’d expect: earnest, actorly declarations about ensemble-building (“Trust, trust, trust!”) and the mystical nature of the theatrical experience.
But on 9/29, Nambi E. Kelley–a member of the cast of Steppenwolf’s soon-to-open Glass Menagerie for young adults, and (full disclosure) a former student of mine–posted a long item that ended with the following: “If Tennessee Williams is in heaven (which I doubt knowing the troubled life he led), mayhap he’ll hear the gentle strumming of his words, from our lips to his ears. And if he is in the other place (which is more likely knowing the troubled life he led) mayhap the music will be so clear he won’t be able to escape it, even there.”
Several commenters seized on the homophobic implication of the paragraph, and the issue was picked up here by Albert Williams.
Of course, those who responded were right, and HAD the right, to make a fuss. I wonder, though, what effect their rebuttals will have on the climate in the Glass Menagerie rehearsal room–and more specifically, on Kelley, who must now build her performance despite the distraction of controversy and demands that she retract. I’m sure she doesn’t need this. (I’ve been through a similar ruckus, and know how psychically draining it can be.) Blogging may have a positive effect on audience-building, but the affaire de Tennessee suggests that it also has the potential to inhibit every theater’s core mission of creating art. The folks at Steppenwolf may want to consider how to protect their people–and their process–from the fall-out of expressing themselves online.