July 10, 2017

"It would be easy to mock David Mamet for his decision to slap a $25,000 fine on theatres that stage post-play discussions of his work."

"It sounds arrogant, high-handed, even undemocratic... Yet it’s worth speculating on Mamet’s motives and asking ourselves whether he has a point.... If Mamet wants to ban post-play discussions of his work, it might be because he feels a play should usher us into an imagined world rather than simply air hot topics in the manner of a newspaper editorial. You get a clue to his thinking from an interview he gave in 1985 where he said: 'The purpose of the theatre is not primarily to deal with social issues, it’s to deal with spiritual issues ... to celebrate the mysteries of life.'"

Writes Michael Billington, who nevertheless finds it "absurd" to threaten theaters with "punitive financial sanctions." I think Billington is being overdramatic. Mamet grants permission to stage his plays and he imposes conditions. If theaters don't like the conditions, they can pick another play. The cost of violating the conditions needs to be adequate to deter flouting them.

Billington says, "Mamet’s status and integrity as a writer is not being undermined with post-show talks."

First, Mamet doesn't need to prove that there's something objectively wrong with post-show talks. He's the artist, and he's determining how he wants his play shown. He could even have a preference for thing that would undercut his "status and integrity." For example, he could say you must perform the entire text, even if the play has a long boring speech in the middle that doesn't advance the plot.

Second, it's actually easy to see how a post-show talk could undermine his status and integrity. The playwright could prefer that the members of the audience exit the theater with his words and his words alone gestating in their heads. The discussion session is another performance after the play, and its words — more pedestrian and outside of the playwright's control — will crowd his carefully chosen words. Worse, the discussion purports to explain and interpret the playwright's words, so it will change how they grow and flourish in the mind of the playgoer. It's also likely — as the 1985 quote indicates — that the discussion will fixate on some issue, and the play will be reduced to an example of a current social problem. It's a diminishment masquerading as an expansion.

By the way, I once participated in an after-play discussion. It wasn't my idea, but I was invited to do it because of my status as a law professor and the play had a legal theme. The play was "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde." I hated the assumption that I was there only to supply legal analysis, and I got myself extremely well informed about Oscar Wilde before doing it. Watching the play, I had loads of things to talk about, but the actual discussion, in my view, was unsatisfying. There's far too much going on in a work of art to discuss on a level that belongs on the very stage where the play just happened.

In this view, I could see a playwright demanding that there be no curtain call.

75 comments:

Michael said...

Maybe he's actually attended a few and learned that his plays are full of toxic masculinity. Certainly Oleanna, which deals with sexual harassment, seems tailor made for a discussion that quickly goes all to one side in the most strident fashion.

The real crime is that David Lynch has, at least on occasion, not allowed chapter breaks on DVDs. You actually want me to watch it all the way through? I have rights!

GRW3 said...

Mamet is also known to be out of step with progressive thought. So, I suppose, this could be a way to prevent a lesson in "rightthink" at his plays expense as the culturally sensitive and progressive play management and actors attempt to reframe the play along their ideals. They want the Mamet cachet but feel a need to fix it.

Or, he's just sparing uninterested but trapped audience members from being subjected to this nonsense, of the first order, instead of getting home or to a late dinner. Those wanting to discuss it can meet over drinks.

Sample Commenter said...

"Mamet’s status and integrity as a writer is not being undermined with post-show talks."

For the sake of argument, let's grant that. So what? I don't see any problem with the playwright objecting to a bunch of reductionist twaddle appended to the end of his play.

BN said...

I bet if the perfesser would slap a $25,000 fine on naughty commenters, there would be a lot less picking on Chuck and what's her name.

ddh said...

Why does a play need a panel discussion? Do movies need panel discussions? Do we need to be told what we should think?

A Canadian arrives at the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter tells him that he can choose between two gates, the one labeled "To Heaven" and another labelled "To Panel Discussion on Heaven." The Canadian picks the panel discussion.

BN said...

BTW, I'm slapping a $25,000 fine on anybody who argues with my above comment, or any of my comments ever. Since we all now apparently have the ability to fine each other.

And I'm just wondering, is it ok if we discuss his plays over drinks afterwards, or is that going to cost us too?

tcrosse said...

Someone who wishes to hold forth on Big Issues in front of an audience can write their own damn play, and let the House chew on it afterwards.

St. George said...

Yet another First World 21st century problem. Oh, the horror.

Sigivald said...

Stop performing his plays until they're out of copyright.

Problem solved.

(Or perhaps "forever", for that matter.)

Michael K said...

Mamet flipped over to the conservative side a few years ago.

I heard him interviewed on the radio about it,

In an essay for Newsweek, published on 29 January 2013, Mamet argued against gun control laws: "It was intended to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government."

The producers probably want to hold a gun control discussion.

Virgil Hilts said...

I love Mamet and support him 100%.
Mamet wrote/directed a couple of films that I thought were quite good that tanked at the box (and that not many people have seen):
- Spartan with Val Kilmer as a special forces agent charged with trying to save a politician's daughter from white slavers.
- Redbelt with the always fantastic Chiwetel Ejiofor as a mixed-martial arts expert who ends If you like Mamet films, you should not miss these.

Sebastian said...

"Why does a play need a panel discussion?" Mainly plays that might contain hints of doubleplusungood heresy, like (some of?) Mamet's. Methinks (apologies) he's resisting prog attacks and ideological cleansing in the form of "discussion."

Amadeus 48 said...

The post-play discussion is an extension of the middle-brow book club culture. A performance should stand on its own.
You just saw the play: think about it, discuss it with your companions afterwards, but don't expect it to be explained to you.
Often, the playwright doesn't even understand what he just showed you. There is no reason to be cowed by the voice of "authority". You saw what you saw.

rehajm said...

Certainly the panel will be filled with lefties. Mamet came out as conservative. Mamet knows in his case 'panel discussion' and 'leftie bitchfest' are equivalents.

rehajm said...

Mamet is missing an opportunity, however.

Luke Lea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Lea said...

I thought post-play discussion is what happens in the car on the way home or out with the people you came with. To open it up to the general public would be a violation of intimacy, which is where real art may take you.

BDNYC said...

I'll never understand the appeal of watching a panel discuss a topic. I could almost enjoy such a thing if I'm at home wearing sweats and I can take breaks for snacks or whatever. But there's something about panel discussions ... it feels too much like a boring lecture, and the Q&A part makes me want to scream at people who will waste my time with their dumb questions. Maybe CLE's have poisoned me against the concept.

David Begley said...

This is similar to the artist with the charging bull on Wall Street objecting to the placement of the defiant little girl statue in front of his work.

BN said...

"Someone who wishes to hold forth on Big Issues in front of an audience can write their own damn play..."

Someone who wishes that a panel discussion is not held after their play can stage their own damn play.

Mark Jones said...

David Begly said, "This is similar to the artist with the charging bull on Wall Street objecting to the placement of the defiant little girl statue in front of his work."

Not if Mamet is licensing productions of his plays--he's entitled to place restrictions on that license. If the theater doesn't want to deal with that restriction, they're free to put on someone else's plays.

BN said...

Does Mamet fine college teachers who discuss his plays in class after the students read it?

dbp said...

"Billington says, "Mamet’s status and integrity as a writer is not being undermined with post-show talks.""

Oh, well I guess that settles it then.

Mamet may or may not agree with this, or his reasons may be unrelated to concerns about his "status and integrity as a writer". He owns the copyright and can set his conditions as he sees fit.

rehajm said...

He owns the copyright and can set his conditions as he sees fit.

Yah. This is not a discussion of artistic integrity but rather it is the first week of Ec10.

Martin said...

I think Mamet is on the right track. The play should speak for itself, certainly during the lifetime of the author.

Now, if a play is older than anyone in the audience, say 80-100 yrs or more, I can see a panel to help put it ion historical context, tho even then that could be done with written notes.

I always thought those panels were usually (like, 9 out of 10) a post-modern deconstructionist thing to position the critics at or above the creative talent, and maybe let some low-talent jerk capture some reflected glory and otherwise feel good about putting down his superior who is not there to state his own case.

But I'm just a crotchety old man.

madAsHell said...

By the way, I once participated in an after-play discussion.

I would have found a conflict in my schedule. I can't even begin to imagine the feelz that are articulated in such a forum.

CWJ said...

"Someone who wishes that a panel discussion is not held after their play can stage their own damn play."

It is his own damn play.

BN, Why are you trolling this subject SO hard?

Laslo Spatula said...

Martin said...
"...I always thought those panels were usually (like, 9 out of 10) a post-modern deconstructionist thing to position the critics at or above the creative talent, and maybe let some low-talent jerk capture some reflected glory and otherwise feel good about putting down his superior who is not there to state his own case."

Yep.

The Panel is the Reeducation Camp for the Play.

I am Laslo.

BN said...

If he licenses it and stipulates conditions of performance in the license, then I'm fine with it. That's the way it should be done.

Kate said...

A well-produced performance is a perfect moment. Catharsis, as Aristotle said. In the old days you treasured that soul-shaking and let it reverberate around. Now the feelz are too scary and must be anodized and chatted away.

BN said...

CWJ, not trolling. I like freedom. The play is his. The panel's not. I prefer when people don't assume they can tell others what they can and cannot talk about and when.

He can write his play if he wants, but people can perform it as artists (pseudo, at least) however they want--in their own right. They can "interpret" it by making Hamilton black, or the lead character as the opposite sex. Whatever. Anybody who doesn't want to see it, doesn't have to. Anybody who doesn't want a panel discussion, doesn't haven't to attend that performance of his play. Or they can leave when the play's over and skip the panel. Whatever. But the time before and after the play is not his to dictate.

However, as I said, if he really wants to specify every detail and condition about his precious play, then he can stipulate it in the license agreement, and nobody has to stage it if they don't agree to his stipulations. That's fair.

David Begley said...

I agree with Mamet. I just wonder how he would enforce it. The NYC sculptor of the charging bull has a weaker case but I agree with him.

BN said...

Oh, btw, CWJ, you owe me $25K.

Mark said...

If it is part of the contract/copyright license, then he can impose whatever restrictions he wants.

Francisco D said...

I went to a very progressive artsy-fartsy K-12 prep school with Dave Mamet. He's about 4 years older.

90% of the kids were from either very rich or really rich families. The rest of us were scholarship kids from the middle and lower middle classes. I don't know about his financial background, but he always acted like he admired steelworkers more than bankers. He rolled up his sleeves and challenged people to arm wrestle a lot - not your typical rich preppie.

I was very pleasantly surprised when he saw the light. We are probably both persona non grata there, but I will bet that we have contributed more money to the scholarship fund than the really rich kids. We both learned that the entitled elites are really phonies striving for admiration and attention. Who cares what they think?

Kevin said...

Oh, btw, CWJ, you owe me $25K.

Get over yourself. You are not offering anything of value such that people would agree to your terms and conditions in order to access it.

I'd suggest you attend a panel discussion on contract law, but it would violate the spirit of the thread.

CWJ said...

BN wrote -

"If he licenses it and stipulates conditions of performance in the license, then I'm fine with it. That's the way it should be done."

HE DID! That's why you should click through before holding forth, and why I thought you were just trolling.

Kevin said...

First we get them to pay money to see a David Mamet play.

Then we extend the production to include a post-play discussion, for free!

Then we make sure they leave with the proper interpretation of Mamet's work.

Now that's Progressive!

Kevin said...

Writes Michael Billington, who nevertheless finds it "absurd" to threaten theaters with "punitive financial sanctions."

Well Mamet finds it absurd you should tell people what to think after they've just watched his play.

As the licensing playwright, Mamet's "absurd" trumps Billington's.

Robert Cook said...

If a work of art is a work worth being called "art," the reader/viewer should allow it to resonate in his or her mind for a while, without having others try to assert what the work "means." Even if one wants to seek out others' intepretations, they should first give themselves the chance to mull over what the work of art meant to them.

I love it when I don't know what a work of art means, (if it was otherwise good and satisfying).

Michael K said...

Does Mamet fine college teachers who discuss his plays in class after the students read it?

Totally different situation. A college class on plays, which I took many years ago, is a class, not a performance,

Those classes, back when English Literature courses still studied good literature, did not perform the play. The class usually discussed segments of the play and what was meant by the author.

I somehow doubt that is what it's like today.

tcrosse said...

Does any college teach Mamet ? Seems unlikely. Right-of-center cis-gendered straight white male, and all that.

The Godfather said...

I agree that a playwright may have a legitimate reason to object to post-play discussions, and he/she has a right to put a proviso to that effect in the license agreement. On the other hand, a play is an ENTERTAINMENT. Of course it's "art", but we buy (absurdly overpriced) tickets to be entertained. If the creator demands that we regard his/her work with profound awe and exit the theatre in silence* -- well then he/she better write a play that makes us feel that way. Otherwise, even an anti-discussion proviso in the licence agreement won't suffice.

*I don't think Shakespeare did that.

BN said...

Lol. Ok, never mind...

(although it took two--TWO--clicks to confirm the license agreement, in the Guardian no less, and there ought to be a fine for making me do that unwillingly.)

I do think it's a silly stipulation, but he is an "artist" so he's entitled to be as silly as he likes.

CWJ said...

"(although it took two--TWO--clicks to confirm the license agreement, in the Guardian no less, and there ought to be a fine for making me do that unwillingly.)"

I agree. And you should pay it.

dda6ga dda6ga said...

My house My rules

Great Uncle August, 1948

Earnest Prole said...

I knew David Mamet was a secret conservative when I saw The Untouchables in 1987. I guess David Mamet figured out the same thing a little while later.

Darrell said...

Want to end panel discussions?

Just keep saying everything means that Hillary Clinton will never be President of the United States.

traditionalguy said...

The play's the thing!

DrSquid said...

Well this is indeed a remarkable post. Robert Cook and I are in complete agreement on this topic.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Just put some statues of defiant little girls at the eds if the stage during the performance.
Problem solved.

traditionalguy said...

You have to remember that Cookie is a descendant from the first Greek Playwrites. All that Marxist stuff that he proclaims is a Euripdes like joke he plays on this audience.

Jeff Gee said...

I didn't realize post-play discussion panels were so widespread that a clause like that would even make sense. What's the attraction? Live theater can get pretty expensive-- is it supposed to be more bang for your buck or something? 90 minutes or two hours of the play, followed by another-- 30? 40? 60? minutes of jibber-jabber? Yeesh. It's like getting a CD with a bonus disc. But it's not a bonus at all, it's rehearsal tapes, demos, outtakes, and false starts.

buwaya said...

"I didn't realize post-play discussion panels were so widespread that a clause like that would even make sense."

I have been to several events in the last few years that had post-event discussion panels. One was a Mystery Science Theater 3000 - related production, another was a comedy night with some semi-prominent nerdy comics. Its a thing, over here in the Bay Area anyway.

Freeman Hunt said...

A panel discussion? Without the playwright? Yuck. Are they trying to trick people into school?

Fred Drinkwater said...

Freeman, you may be forgetting that these days, authors do not have a privileged position when it comes to explaining their own works.
I'm sure I read that somewhere, probably in "One Fish, Two Fish". Ted Geisel, boy, he really had no idea what he was writing about...

buwaya said...

"Are they trying to trick people into school?'

This is for people who, for some perverted reason, liked school.
Mamet is interesting, and tragic. He writes for people who are normal, because, like Joseph Conrad, he writes about real things and draws with minute accuracy from life; but normal people won't sit through his stuff. Only those hopeless geeks.

"Glengarry Glen Ross", for instance, gets the feel of an actual boiler-room sales operation, the sort of hell that plenty of ordinary people have been in. Its also a superb commentary on the nature of management and leadership. But the people who do see it are rarely the sort of people who have lived it or would benefit from it.

Freeman Hunt said...

I love Mamet, but I wouldn't go listen to a bunch of local non-Mamets talk about one of his plays right after I watched it.

Freeman Hunt said...

(In fact, I love Mamet enough that I'm in the middle of his course on Masterclass. Obviously I'm happy to listen to Mamet talk about Mamet. But listen to someone who probably doesn't get Mamet talk about Mamet? No, thank you.)

Sample Commenter said...

Maybe he should just put it in the form of a fee for the "value-add" of a panel discussion of his work conducted with his work for his paying audience. Charge the theatre goers extra, I'm sure they won't mind......

Freeman, I got one of those Diet Coke bottles with names on them and it was "Freeman" I laughed. Hey, I could have gotten "Inga"

Sebastian said...

Mamet should write a play about a "discussion" of a Mamet play. That I might actually like to see.

wildswan said...

What they should do is have a round of remarks and then a vote on whether to keep all the panelists. The loser gets ejected; more remarks, more votes.

And then develop the scenario - the loser gets ejected through the air like a cat video, then the loser with too many negative votes get shocked and then ejected. Then the loser gets dropped by trap door into a shark tank and has to fight his way to the side. You watch that below while the discussion goes on above - and then DC Gov. holds no surprises for you. You may think this comic element is degrading but I know that Italian drama (from whence our drama came) had clowns and acrobats performing between acts and they were widely considered the finest part of the show and were discussed while two uninteresting gentlemen ran about Verona mixing up themselves with their own doubles. If it was good enough for the Renaissance ...

Rob McLean said...

I'm slapping a $50,000 fine on anyone who threatens to slap me with a $25,000 fine. (And a $100,000 fine on anyone who complains about that!)

Sample Commenter said...

Shakespeare always had dances performed at the end of the play. Seems more sensible.

Paul Ciotti said...

Those post play audience discussions are deadly. The audiences (and they are always liberal) just want to show how tolerant and sensitive they are. I can fully imagine what MKamet was worried about. They'd have the after-play discussion and the first question would be, "Which character was supposed to be Trump?" And "How come they didn't kill him?"

Mike Smyth said...

If he wants to ban post-play discussion, put that in the contract with the theater. If that's not in the contract, then he has nothing. The theater should tell him to pound sand.

Birkel said...

OFF TOPIC?

Copyright should not last as long as Congress has made it. Mickey Mouse should be public domain. David Mamet does and should control his works. But his control should not be indefinite, as Disney aims to make it.

Hollywood deserves some uppance to come.

Yancey Ward said...

GRW3 above basically nails the reason for both Mamet's objection to post-play discussions and why his plays first got such discussions. Nothing is preventing the actors and producers from gathering at another locale, or even emptying the theater and reopening it for another program, specifically to discuss the play itself. What you can't do under the terms of the contract, however, is sell tickets to the play that includes post play discussions. Mamet is within his rights here, even if I think he is probably unwise to include such riders.

Yancey Ward said...

I was a huge fan of Mamet's work on the screen right from his screenplay for The Postman Always Rings Twice (the 1981 version of the film). When I read this blogpost, I realized I hadn't really seen anything he had done on the big screen since Heist in 2001, though I had seen some of the episodes of The Unit on television. I guess I hadn't missed much in that time, though I did learn that Ronin (1998) was also written by Mamet but under a pseudonym, which is unsurprising to me since when I first saw the movie, I actually thought to myself at the time it felt very much like a Mamet screenplay in lots of ways.

Quaestor said...

Shakespeare always had dances performed at the end of the play.

I did not know this. Please tell us more.

Quaestor said...

I recommend Mamet's manifesto, The Secret Knowledge. Mamet started his writing career as a doctrinaire leftist, but he wised up.

Matt DuPree said...

I'm trying to imagine how, say, Richard Serra would appreciate a docent posted at one of his site sculptures to moderate a discussion about it. I don't have to imagine very hard: he would freak out, justifiably so. Art should stand on its own, and if it would benefit from some additional context, it should be kept to a minimum for those interested. There should not be an implied "official interpretation."

RNB said...

Didn't Arthur Miller used to get upset when people suggested that 'The Crucible' might be about anything other than McCarthyism?

Joe said...

I find most of Mamet's work to be worthless crap. So maybe he doesn't want groups to come to the same conclusion.

Deus X. Nihilo said...

How does a discussion of his show after it's finished being performed affect the integriy of his work? The play is done being performed. A post-show talk is not an alteration of his text. Seems to me he's making an extraordinary claim that he can control what a theater company and their audience can talk about once the play is finished.