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Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Exioma

My father refers to people who puzzle him and the world as "exiomas."

We know the word is "enigmas," but his version if funnier if nothing else. Israelis. Always good for a ha-ha.

I'm an exioma, I suppose. We probably all are, to some extent, though I think some of us are probably guilty of overcomplicating ourselves for the sole purpose of appearing more interesting. And I can understand the motivation for doing that. It's like-- why wear a plain t-shirt when you can wear one with a snappy "Daily Show" quote on it, or a picture of Gandhi, or a Bob Dylan song lyric nobody understands. In the book, "The Killer Angels," Confederate General James Longstreet jokingly says to General George Pickett,

"George, you certainly have a talent for complicating the obvious and trivializing the momentous."

Well, people like to do that, and people do it well.

I think I realized I was an enigma yesterday when someone was discussing the proposed sales tax on Philadelphia cultural events, like tickets to see live theatre. The arts community in Philadelphia is in an absolute uproar over this proposed tax, and Philadelphia theatre companies are claiming that it will rob them of already-dwindling audiences, and will threaten to exterminate an cultured and essential art form that has long been teetering on the perilous edge of exinction.

Theatre people. They're such fucking drama queens, aren't they?

Well, the person who was discussing the proposed tax hike on arts and culture was, I think, expecting me to share in her indignation over such an obvious affront to the arts in Philadelphia, a scene which I am a part of, however marginally. I'm an actor. I am an avid theatregoer. I teach theatre. I'm a playwright, of sorts. Shouldn't I be leading the parade, the protests, shouting rabid slogans into a megaphone with a hypothetical Molotov cocktail in my hand?


I turned to my colleague and I said the following:

"You know what? I think everybody needs to quit crying in their fucking beer, okay?"

She looked at me. And blinked. Twice.

"Going to the theatre in America has always been a rich man's game, and it's always going to be that way. Do any of these fucking 'artists' have any idea how to balance Philadelphia's budget? No. Do any of these goddamned fru-frus and morons know that nearly 300 Philadelphia police officers were almost laid off in order to balance the budget? Is that what they want? Would they volunteer to get fucking deputized and patrol the streets of North and West Philly for free to stave off this stupid theatre tax? No. They wouldn't. This city would be brought to its knees, to its knees if we laid off 300 cops. But do they give a fuck about that?! No! They just want to live in their own protected world where accessibility to the arts is the only important thing in the world."

She blinked again.

"Well," she said, "I guess, when you are involved in one aspect of life, that tends to be what you choose to fight for."

Did I mention that this woman is my boss?

"I would have thought," she continued, "that as an actor and as a theatre educator that this issue might be more important to you but, obviously, it's not."

Obviously not.

And why not? I am a theatre educator. I appear onstage and lustily lap up applause that I probably don't deserve. I see plays far more frequently than I see movies. I was a theatre major in college. Shouldn't I care that the city of Philadelphia is taxing arts events, and not sporting events? Well, yeah. And it's unfair to tax one form of entertainment and not the other, but I'm certainly not going to bust out an editorial to the Philadelphia Inquirer about it, and I'm not going to write a letter to some politician's lover (excuse me-- secretary) about it either.

Why? Because I'd rather pay $8.00 more for a ticket to a play in this city than see 300 prematurely retired cops working at local Targets and Shop-Rites as rent-a-badges for $9.00/hr.

It's really that simple.

And, as I was having this conversation (or was it a monologue?) with my boss, I wondered yet again if I am not in the wrong profession. The performing arts are important to me, but they are certainly not where my overt passions lie. If I could find some way to turn the fervor of my beliefs into a tangible job with a steady income, I'd do that. But I don't know how to do that.

A staunch proponent of law-and-order with a theatrical streak. Or is it the other way around?

Exioma indeed.


  1. "A staunch proponent of law-and-order with a theatrical streak"? Sounds like you could be a lawyer. Or maybe a crime-fiction writer. Or a superhero.

    Definitely a superhero.

  2. Theatre, at least in England, is moving more towards 'a special trip to the cinema'. It's the kind of thing that most families do once a year, no more, no less. Normally around Christmas, or for someone's birthday.

    That, plus tourism equals... the theatre segment!

    It is a bit of a hit on the am-dram crew though, considering it's their own friends/family that fill the audience.

  3. This is an awesome post and I must say THANK YOU.

    I love theatre as much as anyone, but on your point, I also love not being shot. Furthermore, I think it's actually a bit sad that THIS is what people cling to, and not the horrible monstrosity that passes for an educational system in our fair city!


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