To the editors:
Justin Hayford’s review of Le Theatre de Banlieue’s performance of La Nik a Wet [March 9] raises once again–and glaringly–the spectre of the Reader’s nearly complete lack of support for performance art, experimental theatre, and experimental music in Chicago. Hayford’s lack of historical perspective, his mistaken and superficial association of Le Theatre de Banlieue’s work with Beckett’s, and, perhaps worst of all, his ersatz nineteenth-century attitude to “musicality” are evidence of a surprising ignorance on his part. Those of us who saw the work–and it certainly wasn’t free of faults–were not being mindlessly duped by “charlatans,” but were experiencing a piece that was obviously linguistically non-narrative (as opposed to Beckett’s works in which narrative is imperative even as it turns in on itself) and musically wide-ranging–lyrical, abrupt, loud, intimate, pseudo-romantic, forceful, playful, and mournful (sometimes simultaneously).
But really what this is all about is the Reader, and not just Hayford. I was disappointed with him, but I suppose one can’t realistically expect him or anyone else to intelligently review all types of performance art and experimental theatre. The real insult to the artistic community comes from the Reader, which consistently prints performance art reviews by only one reviewer whenever it deigns to print one at all (about one every three weeks), as if these artforms are so simplistic that they can be handled by a single, monolithic point of view. Meanwhile, each week you print column after column of meaningless reviews of some of the most insipid theatrical dung imaginable, neglecting and thus dismissing contemporary artforms. There are performance art and experimental theatre events presented constantly in Chicago, year round–these are not occasional artforms. And the problem is not limited to performance art. Have you ever printed a review of experimental music? When Elliott Sharp was here last year presenting premiere works to sold-out houses, you ignored it. When George Lewis returned to Chicago last year and performed with Douglas Ewart, you ignored that. There’s a lot going on out here and it is the Reader’s duty to cover it. The mainstream press is content with regurgitating cultural anesthesia, and I resent the fact that you would continue to insult your readership with the same treatment. In discussing my complaints with a friend, he pointed out to me that the Reader is open to printing unsolicited reviews. Fine, but that’s not good enough. It is your duty to seek out capable writers–and Chicago has them–to constantly write about new artwork from myriad viewpoints so that the public at large can be adequately informed. You should be actively pursuing these avenues, not playing a passive and therefore destructive role. There is a tremendous critical vacuum in this city, and you have the responsibility to fill it–not because you owe it to the artists (we know we’re on our own), but because you owe it to your readers. Otherwise the continued “ghettoization” of contemporary and experimental artforms will continue unchecked.