There are as many reasons for not reading plays
as there are other things we choose to do instead,
all stemming from cultural disregard
The thought has never even crossed the minds of most Americans. No one we know reads plays. “Plays are written for the stage,” and since most of us never go to the theatre, we’re virtually unaware of its literary existence.
Three out of four of us read books in prose; after high school (Shakespeare), one in a thousand ever reads a play (see A National Disgrace).
This must change.
For centuries, the only valid argument against cold reads was the bother and expense of obtaining scripts for a group of readers. Now we download plays for free.
All the other arguments are bogus (See Lame Excuses).
Everybody’s much too busy these days, doing far too many other things; who has time to read a play? The truth is, we find time for our priorities, and cold reading isn’t on the list. Why not skip a poker night and read The Odd Couple? Or read a 10-minute play over lunch.
Most of us are reticent to read aloud, afraid of feeling foolish. We’re not actors. Some of us don’t read so well. It doesn’t matter. We don’t act; we read. There’s no one there but us. The more we do it, the better we get, the more we get out of it. It’s good for the brain.
Anyone who pictures cold reads as a boring, scholastic study group is in for a pleasant surprise.
Subjective reasons we don’t read plays derive from our societal perception of theatre itself as bygone and irrelevant, elitist, highbrow, sissy, hammy, nerdy, trivial, boring—or seditious, sacrilegious, degenerate, and downright un-American.
In a larger sense, under all the lame excuses lies the truth that we Americans take philistine pride in stigmatizing all creative (non-pop) art—especially theatre—without knowing what it is. To understand this significant flaw in our national character, one must consider its history. (See Cultural Heritage.)
NOTE: The stigma targets the “wicked stage” of yesteryear, and is addressed in Plays on Stage; but it’s also left us culturally unaware of plays as dramatic literature. The more we read, the more we’re likely to attend, become involved, lobby Congress for subsidies that recognize the value of the wholly human art.
The ultimate goal of CR/I
is to make good theatre
available, popular, and affordable.
In a Nutshell
Since Ancient Greece, plays on stage have been either lovingly embraced (exploited) or savagely reviled by religion and the ruling class. When all three work together, western culture thrives—witness the Golden Age of Greece, Elizabethan England, and the Social Realism of the late 19th Century.
But the Roman Catholic Church banned plays on stage in Europe for a thousand years; despots and dictators used them to spread lies; and (in the end) the entertainment industry hijacked the audience. Today the powers that be continue to conspire to keep plays on stage out of common time and mind. They fear its magic power.
Our Puritan Forebears
Theatre emerged from the Dark Ages in the very Church that had outlawed it for centuries, to encourage mass attendance with playlets from the Bible, so successful that they overflowed into the streets, performed by tradesmen, until church drama spread all over Europe. Then the Renaissance developed a secular perspective; kings and queens came into play; the Reformation challenged the pope; and when church plays threatened state religions, they were proscribed in favor of the works of (for example) Shakespeare.
Shakespeare died in 1616. Four years later, a boatload of Puritans, appalled at the Church of England’s sanctioning sports and games on Sundays (among other things)—to whom all forms of entertainment (especially theatre) were blasphemy—sailed away to Plymouth Rock. Those who remained were persecuted by church and state until the English Civil Wars (1642-49), when under Oliver Cromwell they took control of Parliament, executed the King, declared the Commonwealth, and closed down all the playhouses for the next eleven years.
English theatre bounded back with a flourish after the Restoration, and to this day the most Brits know Shakespeare like the Bible. Meanwhile, all the Puritans, faced with retribution, fled across the sea to join their fellow Pilgrims in the New World, where there would be virtually no theatre for the next 200 years. We never knew what it was. How could we appreciate it?
The fact is, theatre and religion are one and the same—with one exception. Religion bows to a god who offers afterlife, while theatre leans to human beings here and now. People who believe in God can maintain faith in humankind as well. Gold helps those who help themselves. (See Thespis and Theism.)
The Ruling Class
Anyone familiar with A People’s History of the Unites States, by Howard Zinn, will understand why those who would control the hearts and minds and pocketbooks of all the rest of us perpetuate the denigrating lame excuses. Theatre brings us all together, shows us we’re the same; the bosses all divide us.
Just follow the money. Look at the hundreds of billions spent promoting spectator sports that divide us into opposing camps, on pop culture fads, technologies, commercial advertising; look at the trillions spent on war. Compare these to less than one billion dollars allotted to the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services combined—all of which our fraudulently elected president would abolish altogether.
This insanity must end. (See The Powers That Be.)
Maybe people take no interest in our commonality. Individuals we are, defined by all our differences. Maybe we’re afraid to find out we’re like everybody else.
Why don’t YOU read plays?