Thursday, January 28, 2010

Politics, parades, New Orleans Saints -- It's all theater

A guest column by Amy Kirk Duvoisin
By Contributing Op-Ed columnist, Times-Picayune
January 27, 2010, 5:33PM

Recently I attended a meeting intended to encourage official support of the arts in New Orleans. At the end of the presentations, political candidates were welcome to speak.

The last person to plead the case for the arts was a theater director. While she was articulate and passionate, she happened to be speaking at the same time the City Council and mayoral candidates were lining up onstage. Her words about the power of theater to reflect the signifance of our daily lives lost out to the unspoken political drama unfolding simultaneously onstage.

Isn't that just New Orleans, I thought. Always a parade lining up! In this town you gotta be fast, loud and keep moving. The brass bands have it right.

As a playwright, I've always thought that theater faced fierce competition in this town. Not because there is an overabundance of playwrights and aspiring actors, but because there's so much free entertainment all around us -- from politics to parades.
And now, we can add football to that list.

I've never really been a true blue football fan. I found it -- believe it or not -- not dramatic enough. I was raised on baseball and tennis (which could explain why my plays have so little action). After experiencing the tear-jerking, heart-racing, fingernail-biting and neck-aching playoff game of the Saints vs. the Vikings, I have changed my mind. Football is theater. I get it.

My husband, a former high school football coach and now an English teacher, noted that all the goals of art, especially of theater, were reflected in a game like the one played Sunday: the ability to lose oneself, the ability to empathize, the ability to experience shared human emotion. (Can you see why I married this guy?)

I had recently explained to him that what kept me in theater were the small moments of elation and epiphany that came after months of hard work. "There's always a point in the play when you can feel the audience is with you -- there's nothing like it!" I said.

Well, there is something like it. It's called a Saints game. And Sean Payton is one hell of a playwright. Drew Brees and Garrett Hartley and all the cast unwittingly performed a game that rivals any Shakespeare I've seen. And what's so cool about it is that it's totally real, totally unscripted, totally experienced second by second among thousands of strangers.

In other parts of the country, they are dreading Valentine's Day and watching the snow fall or the slush form. We, on the other hand, are experiencing a Trifecta Theatrical Extravaganza. And you don't need a ticket for any of the shows.

There's Election Day. Don't let it get lost in the bright lights of Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl. We've fought too hard and too long and paid too much attention to have it slide by like it's just another pre-Super Bowl Saints Saturday.

Imagine -- we get to change the course of our city 24 hours before changing football history. When else do you have such an opportunity to win, twice in one weekend?

Meanwhile, there's a parade lining up somewhere. And again, you get to participate. This town has the most audience participation per capita in the country, I'm sure of it.

In fact, what I love most about Mardi Gras is that there is no fourth wall, no imaginary space designed to keep the audience and actors separate to create an illusion of reality.

In New Orleans, the audience is necessary. The Saints need the fans, the politicians need the citizens and the float riders need revelers to appreciate the spectacle and catch their throws. Although theater claims to need its audience, and I know that an audience can make or break an opening night, let's face it -- most of us in theater are happy to perform for our cats if necessary. We say it's because we want to communicate and connect, and we do. But I envy the success of a good parade and a good football game. It's everything theater wants to be. And we have it all here, almost all of the time.

And to think that audience involvement in a theatrical production is still considered avant garde!

I'll keep writing plays. I have something to strive for, now that I've seen truly public theater. I can't expect to reach people in the way that politicians, football players and Mardi Gras monarchs do, but that's fine. It'll give me something to do in the off-season.

Amy Kirk Duvoisin, founder of the Joan of Arc project, lives in New Orleans. Her e-mail address is
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