Twenty years ago, Arlene Croce, writing in the New Yorker, declared that she felt that Bill T. Jones' work exploring his own AIDS diagnosis and the terminal illnesses of his performers made his work "undiscussable" - beyond the reach of criticism. She coined the term "victim art" and vented her frustration at the way she felt manipulated by art that seemed more about issues than it was about aesthetics. Now, I don't agree with Croce, but I'm finding myself this morning sympathizing with her frustration.
I'm frustrated because I'm struggling with another type of performance that we do treat as undiscussable, performances we don't dare to critique, not because the performers are victims but because they're just so darn cute. I'm talking about performances that are so far away from Bill T. Jones as to hardly be in the same universe. I'm talking about the school concert.
I have been part of school concerts as a music teacher, classroom teacher, director, and parent. I've spent long hours rehearsing kids for all sorts of shows, some good, some bad, some cringe-worthy. I've toiled in the trenches of recorders, boomwhackers, and box steps. I know how much work it is to put on one of these shows, even the worst of them.
So, I'm reluctant to criticize, really I am. But, I just can't hold it in any more. We need to take a hard look at this ritual and ask ourselves some big questions. Like, why in the world are we doing this? What's the value? What's the point?...