Ashley talks creativity… or the lack there of…

Whilst sitting at my desk one day last week, I received an astonishing delivery. Flat-wrapped in cardboard, then shrinkwrapped, my parcel vexed me. To alleviate this vexation I opened it, and made an even more astonishing discovery. Someone had sent me the Mona Lisa. There she was, in all of her smug glory, staring up at me from my desk. I was delighted! What a windfall! I turned it over to examine it further and realised my mistake. This was not the ACTUAL Mona Lisa. It was a cunning computer age forgery that was supposed to breed the kind of excitement I just experienced, in order to entice the recipient into buying more priceless artworks (though in this case I think “priceless” is not meant as a compliment). I was at first outraged at being made to look a fool in front of my work colleagues. I was then outraged that my facebook status already said “OMG just got Mona Lisa in mail!” Then I was saddened. I was saddened because I wondered why our society had come to the point where a counterfeit Mona Lisa was acceptable. I was also saddened because I could not think of the last time I had been to the theatre and thought “Wow, that was totally creative!”, a thought that I used to have all the time.

Our society at the moment thrives on certainty. Fair enough, we live in fairly uncertain times. What with petrol prices through the roof, people who look different to you being a major threat, and the fear that Matthew Newton is hiding around every corner, who wouldn’t be a little cautious? We all remember the utter poverty that we lived in during the Global Financial Crisis, right? So we strive for certainty, and grab onto it wherever we can. We no longer go and see the up and coming band at the local pub, we pay out once a year for Powderfinger because we know their songs. We don’t take a chance on a film we may not be able to understand the title of, we strap on our glasses and watch the brand new 3-D transfer of “My Dinner with Andre” (Wallace Shawn’s spittle actually flies past your earlobes), and no longer do we wish to see the local theatre company maybe get Les Miserables right, we wait for the show we have been told is wonderful and performed by real actors. And evidentally we no longer save up for the real Mona Lisa, we have a brilliant fake sent to us in the mail. So what effect does this need for certainty have?

I’ll tell you what.

Our need for certainty is killing our old friend creativity. We would not have the Mona Lisa if Leonardo had wondered what his public would have felt about it. In truth, artists in the olden days were often thrown in jail for painting, or creating from their hearts. The public, however, wanted to be inspired, they wanted to be shocked, they wanted to be amazed by seeing something that they had not seen before. They wanted to be the first to see the new works by the masters.

Musical theatre was much the same as this for a while. Since it was thought up in the a-long-time-ago period,  musical theatre has always been a heightened way of storytelling, and one more palatable to the general public than the stuffy world of acty-sort-of theatre. Some argue musical theatre is the Herald Sun, to the other’s Age. I argue sure, but which one is easier to read and has more pretty girls in it? In days of yore, people would clamber to see the latest new works of the classic musical theatre masters, and local directors would relish the opportunity to breathe life into new projects and show people their glorious visions for the piece.

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This is all before the days of Cameron Mackintosh. Cameron Mackintosh is the man who is most responsible for killing creativity. He is as much responsible for killing creativity as Ronald McDonald is for killing the art of making a fine hamburger (an art worth your learning). Cameron Mackintosh bought one of the first fax machines in the world. For you younglings who have had to translate this into leet-speak, a fax machine is a machine that is used to transfer documentation all around the world. In other words, I can put the Mona Lisa in one fax machine, and have it come out another fax machine ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD! Mackintosh realised this, and saw its potential use in a theatrical setting. He began ‘faxing’ the way musicals under his control were to be performed all over the world, so that people could see the same          thing on  the West End as they do in Melbourne.  Ahhhhhh, no longer will I have to worry that it might not be any good! They will be exactly the same!

This is all well and good, and would have disappeared without much incident, had Cameron Mackintosh not taken over the world. He decided he liked making money, and that this was the way he was going to do it. He made money, and our need for certainty was met. Some could even argue that this culture created an intolerance of anything slightly below par.

Now I want you to imagine a young Leonardo Da Vinci, living in our time, and training as an artist. His raw talent is noticed by a lecturer at some university, and he is given an endowment from some long dead, rich painter to ply his trade. Imagine the benefactor waiting for him in his studio on his first day with a file full of pictures. Pictures that Leonardo is to recreate, stroke for stroke and line for line. Sure, they would be brilliant, and wonderful to look at, but we would be able to see it anywhere. Also, what would happen to the Mona Lisa? Where would it go? Would it end up somewhere in the ether? Would it ever see the light of day? Would he ever get the chance to paint what was in his mind, or would he just spend his lifetime painting stuff that other people had painted.

Imagine now, a young director. His raw talent noticed by some lecturer at a university, and he is given a job as director of the hot new musical coming to town. He has these amazing ideas for metaphor, symbolism, mise en scene, and artistic expression, which are pushed aside to make way for him to recreate someone else’s vision. Those ideas never get out, and the world never sees them. Imagine that this director had some sort of theatrical Mona Lisa in his head. ‘So what on earth has this got to do with me?’, you ask. Good question.

This is what, bucko.

I have not seen as many musicals as I would have liked to over the past few years, though through the ones I have seen, I have noticed an alarming trend. They look exactly like the professional versions. Now this is not such a bad thing, in fact it is great. Except that what I have seen in these productions is an attempt at an exact replica of what appears in these shows. I am acutely aware of the existence of bootlegged DVD’s* of musicals playing on Broadway. I am obtusely aware of seeing new musicals produced on an amateur stage in the exact same way presented on these DVD’s. Now, I am not suggesting that people are buying these DVD’s, watching, studying them and then recreating them on stage any more than I am suggesting that this is exactly what people are doing! What can we do about this?

Revolt! Stage an uprising. We will rally together outside the Princess Theatre next Tuesday night and march on Melbourne’s theatre district. Someone supply a big red flag, and we shall march in a mock box-step all the way down Bourke Street. Failing that, fight for creativity.

*If any of you can tell what the red flag so lovingly adhered to in every production ever actually means, I will give you my complimentary drink vouchers for the Guilds** this year.

Creativity is not just simply stepping onto a stage and performing. Creativity is creating something. Making something that you feel. Feeling something that you make. Audience members reading this, don’t walk out in disgust if you don’t get a helicopter, or a huge barricade, or exactly what you have seen on your illegal DVD. Go along and see what the amazing directors, performers, costumiers, set builders, lighting designers, sound designers, and stage crews can produce from their minds, and marvel at the brilliance of it.

If you think it, they will come.

*I make this comment with a complete sense of irony.
**Probably won’t go to the Guilds.