Willamette Week, November 11, 1998
Well, here we go again. Another angry reader is writing to complain about the insufferable Steffen Silvis and his theater reviews. This time, however, there’s a twist: I’m not writing because Mr. Silvis trashed a perfectly good show in the name of a personal vendetta, or even because he once again substituted mean-spirited insults in the place of valuable critique. No, I am far more upset by the more subtle evil Mr. Silvis perpetrated in your Nov. 4 issue [“New Vaudevilles for Old”]. I, like your reviewer, also saw Liminal’s Jowl Movements I-IX, but I am not so willing to jump through hoops at the sight of anything unconventional. What is so disturbing about the apparent willingness to build up the “avant-garde” or experimental is that we are constantly told about HOW things are performed with no regard for WHAT is being said. While I must admit the Liminal players have clearly worked hard on their show, their irreverent efforts only add to the bitterness I feel toward the content they are selling. Does your critic’s need to look intelligent and hip by responding positively to marginal theater take precedence over the common values we all should hold? It is sad to see the label of art hiding what is blatant slander. While ours is a society of free speech, this should not allow anyone to say anything about anyone, in however obscene a fashion, and then simply shrug their shoulders and call it vaudeville. Ironically, one of the so-called actors in the Liminal show jumped up at one point, shouting “fire!” in the crowded theater! Perhaps this was a subliminal manifestation of the group’s awareness that they are abusing the First Amendment in the most despicable way. When your paper so readily supports a company that feeds our tabloid society, you must take responsibility for the inevitable decline of respect for truth in our community. I will thank Mr. Silvis to be more careful about what he chooses to support in the future, and I’d like to point out one typo: Mr. Silvis calls Liminal’s approach “heuristic.” This should have read “heretical.”
Southeast Yamhill Street
Willamette Week, November 18, 1998
After controlling my laughter last week at Dustin Fink’s reactionary attitude toward art and morality in his criticism of Steffen Silvis and Liminal’s show, Jowl Movements I-IX [Letters, WW, Nov. 11, 1998], I realized that Mr. Fink may be on to something.
Boycott theater. Let’s follow Mr. Fink’s advice. He wants audiences to stop attending Liminal’s event. I’ll take the argument further. Let’s stop attending theater altogether. With no audience life-support, theater will finally die. Think of the benefits. No longer will there be spectators like Mr. Fink who insist that performances adhere to polarities of either/or and right/wrong. No longer will spectators endure artists caught up in states of uninspired paralysis. We’ll eliminate tired regional repertory theaters (anachronisms created when we still believed that Americans would publicly subsidize art), and we’ll dismiss the experimental crowd; a crowd that mimics the ghosts of the avant-garde for marginal audiences of trend-setting sleepwalkers and the few who are awake, starving for the unknown. We’ll do away with all categorized forms of drama, theater, performance art or whatever you call it. Once gone, we’ll stop debating how to fund it all. We’ll wait for the “end of the millennium,” the end of consumerism’s excessive assimilation of anything unique and the end of “high” vs. “low” art. We’ll wait for a new genesis of theater. Those who remain will start over. We’ll learn from predecessors without religiously clinging to tradition. We’ll return theater to its roots of contradiction and ambiguity. We’ll become innovators of expression, resonating the past and present, clamoring for the future. We’ll join with other forms of art to create new genres of expression. Finally, at the table of criticism and in our papers, we’ll exchange ideas, not half-baked ideologies that are residual products of the decline in intellectual, cultural and political life in America. We’ll save theater from Mr. Fink, from others like him and from its own beleaguered self. To readers who can imagine what I have described, I hope they start celebrating the theater’s death and witness Jowl Movements I-IX in person before making decisions about its content.