why I’m not buying tickets to WICKED.

March 22, 2013

WICKED went on presale today. I’m not sure what to do.

Two minds. Toss-up.

Some of it is my automatic frugality, which is often countered in me by a slightly less strong why the hell not? you’ll enjoy it! Neither of these are quite the best basis to make judgement from. Because I like WICKED; I love the music and I’ve spent copious amounts of time on youtube watching Idina Menzel and Stephanie J. Block being incredible. I know the songs by heart. I’m a fan of Stephen Schwartz. And it’s a powerful experience, live theatre, and live theatre with music is even more emotionally so. And I like vivid experiences. And a long time ago, as a theatre student, very much aware that creating good theatre necessitates seeing a wide range of shows, I made a decision to set money aside specifically for the purpose. It was one of my budgeting priorities, up there with food, books and clothes.

I haven’t revoked that decision yet, although nowadays I’m beginning to look at it and wonder. I’m no longer a theatre student. And while I loved theatre, it’s not the direction I’m headed. Not right now, anyway, and in some ways not even back then; the thing that excited me most about theatre was all the burning possibility inherent in it for connection, in the very nature of it. At the very heart of theatre is the breathtaking, deeply personal potential to change people. To really, deeply communicate something- anything- everything– more fully and more uniquely than it’s possible to communicate in any other form, which- if the thing communicated is powerful enough- can change people.

And yes, art in any medium has the potential to do that, because all art is an attempt to communicate. It is reaching out to Someone Else in order to present them with something that will in some way alter or deepen or affect their understanding or relationship to the world, to a specific situation or emotion or to an experience held in common. Art, I think, seeks to effectively communicate explorations of and reflections on and decisions made about the very nature of who we are as humans: what we might exist for, what it means to be here and alive, loving, wanting, hating, dying, growing up; what it feels like to be afraid, how to live when there’s nothing to live for, what it means to be. And while all forms of art strive to communicate these things through their own mediums, theatre is I think the most direct and the most potentially explosive. Because it is, at its heart, deeply personal. In its bones is human interaction: in its absolute simplest form it is this person, alive, breathing, real, here, telling you something, now, here, right now in front of you.

Theatre at its best is deeply immediate and deeply confrontational. There is no indirect medium of canvas or paper or printed word keeping things abstract and distant and leaving you with the ability to maintain a separation and remain unaffacted or ignorant of the message, the emotion, the story being told. The human body, the real living-and-breathing human man or woman, in front of you, relates to you, now, even if it may be through barriers of convention or technique. And you relate to them. A real live person, affecting you, being affected by you, is much harder to ignore or misunderstand than a painting or a poem. And because there are real live people involved, theatre changes; it changes constantly. It can never be replicated in exactly the same way. It is entirely unique in this moment and when the moment goes, it’s not coming back again. It’s not static. It’s not unchanging or unchangeable or unaffected by you, the way a movie is and always will be; even in the least conventionally interactive, most sit-silent-in-a-dark-room-for-an-hour type theatre, actors will always react to an audience and their mood and energy. Theatre is a living medium, and is the closest artform to real life there is; it reaches out in sound and sight and even smell and taste and touch, depending on the show (Bread and Puppet Theatre feeds its audience homemade garlic bread and I’m pretty sure Binge Culture* has based an entire show around feeding their audience porridge). It is the most physically present form of creative communication, other than perhaps performance art, which in itself is a type of theatre. It’s- just. There’s nothing quite like it in the world.


I seem to have sidetracked myself a little in my love for the medium.

What I was getting at was probably something more like this: as much as I am in some ways still deeply excited by the nature of theatre, it is not currently part of my life right now, and I’m okay with that. I still have two other, more solitary, less immediate artforms to work happily on while I’m studying (or maybe one, for now, until 50/90 rolls in again). I’m unsure, then, whether I should keep theatre as A Priority on my list of expenditures.


And lately, I’ve been more aware of my- consumption. It’s not a fully-formed thought or idea by any means, but lately- and by lately we mean within the past month, while studying theology, because doing this was always going to change me- that was the intention- I’m becoming aware of the things I spend my money on. I’m becoming more aware that I take for granted my ability to fulfill my wants and obey my whims, and that many of the things I see as natural to do or have or want are actually- luxuries, gratuitous extras, and deeply unneeded. I’m beginning to see that I expect to indulge in things, and that it even feels like a right, or a small treat. Why not? I have the money. And it’s not just the standard cry of materialism, We Have So Much Stuff, but it’s the luxury of experience too. These aren’t things I need, and they aren’t even things that are particularly helpful, for me or for other people. They won’t make me kinder or more patient, or a more curious thinker, or a better listener. They won’t make me more invested in the emotional and physical hungers of the people around me, or help me to love them more, or be there for them. They don’t make much of a difference to anything.

And more and more, being in this environment where people are actively thinking about and working among the poorest people, where I’m encountering repeatedly this emphasis on the poor, the hungry, the lost and the alone, the ones who have nothing, it’s beginning to come home to me that I’m actually- very much one of the sated First World middle-class with money enough to- not even afford luxuries, but assume they’re part and parcel of what it is to be alive and happy and part of this world. Materialism is one of those words that tend to float around the place and I never really paid attention to it before; never really felt like it applied to me, partially because I didn’t really know what it was, and partially because I’ve been on a student budget my whole life and I’ve always felt like I needed to save and be frugal and that I was financially afflicted in comparison to, y’know, those rich people with jobs and a car and stuff. I’m a poor student. Of course I’m poor. I’ve always been somewhere in my overdraft. And yet I have enough to buy tickets to shows, and buy gelato when I feel like it, and go shopping when I want a dress, and more and more it feels like a right. An expected thing. Of course I should get this. Why shouldn’t I? It’s not wrong, is it?

No. It’s not- wrong to buy a dress.

And yet, and yet. In everything I’m studying, I’m really beginning to be aware just how much justice- and social justice in particular- is emphasised in the Bible. I’m doing a paper on the Prophets, and the prophets are absolutely stuffed to the gills with this. Over and over again, the prophets say to the people of Israel: what are you doing. you’re trampling over the poor and lounging around in your wealth and ignoring the needy. God is not happy with this. this is not what you’d promised him you’d do. what are you doing. The God that these prophets depict is so deeply concerned with the poor that this crops up everywhere. And in Church History, over and over I’m reading about all these different movements and people who- shared all they had with each other, or lived only on what they needed and gave everything else away, or begged on the streets for the poor at the age of eighty (John Wesley, you idiot). And here I am with my bank account, and I’m looking at tickets to WICKED and thinking seventy-five is okay for a big Broadway-type musical; I don’t normally spend that much on theatre but it’s still pretty good for a show that huge and it doesn’t cost that much, and sitting there slowly shifting the levels in my head as to what doesn’t cost that much means, trying to rearrange my understanding of how much is A Lot Of Money, and just, and just.

I’m aware of what I’m doing now, and I don’t like it. I was talking to my cubby-neighbour this morning (we have small individual cubbies in the library; mine is pinned all over with T.S. Eliot and Hopkins and R.S. Thomas and Hass) about the musical, and I said I wasn’t sure I could get these tickets, not only because of the cost (the inner frugality leaping out again), but because WICKED is such a big, splashy show. It’s a giant Broadway musical with lavish expenditure and deeply conspicuous consumption, millions spent on lights and effects and touring and costumes and actors and crew and theatre hire etcetera etcetera, and I said I wasn’t sure I was comfortable supporting that, contributing to that. Particularly since it’d give me nothing back, other than a nice evening and some nice music and a flash-in-the-pan brief emotional whirl-through. Frothy stuff, all substance and no depth. And I still agree with my self-from-this-morning, but writing this all down now it’s more than that; it’s not just their consumption, it’s my consumption. I’m not sure I can support my own conspicious, agreeable, complacent why not? I have the money. I’ve sat reading Wikipedia before and looked at how a movie cost this-and-that-billion to make, and thought that could feed a country. Why do we spend so much on this when- [cue mental images of starving children and giant bloated bellies and giant eyes with flies flecking their faces like lashes]. And I’m doing the exact same thing, albeit on a much smaller scale. But it is still the same thing, and the mindset is exactly the same. And I am not happy with this.

It’s different for different people, of course. And poor people are waved around so often that we don’t really feel anything much anymore. They’re poor. Sure. It doesn’t make any difference to us; they’re over there somewhere, separate from where we are, and they don’t really make a difference to our daily lives (unless they’re particularly intrusive, like the homeless, and even then if you walk quickly they get left behind and thus forgotten). But I don’t believe that’s right. I don’t believe we should feel like that, or sit complacently in our own ability to buy small things we don’t particularly need, or believe that we should spend our money on things we feel like, just because we have that money. And this is still a thing I need to think more about, but- there. There it is. That’s why I’m not going to WICKED. I like the musical, I do, but- its not important. It doesn’t matter, not even in the slightest. People matter. People who are actually hungry and actually cold tonight matter.

And I’m going to need to seriously think about this.





* Local Wellington theatre company. Experimental. Different. Amazing. They challenge you and make you think. And the stuff they do tends to be so much fun and hugely street-theatrey interactive; this Wellington Fringe just gone, they had several things on and one of them involved getting passers-by to assist a group of stranded ‘orca whales’ back into the sea (wetsuited volunteers, complete with cardboard flippers and trained in the art of making sad whale noises) with careful herding and buckets to keep them wet. And their more This Is A Show type shows tend to involve things like cardboard cities and aggressive quizzes and panda suits and a naked dude holding a plastic bag filled with water in front of his genitals while other actors wander by and stab holes in it. The bag, not his genitals. I don’t know what these guys are on but I wish they’d share it around a bit more.

One Response to “why I’m not buying tickets to WICKED.”

  1. Sarah Deeble Says:

    I’ve been thinking through some of the same things lately, not quite as deeply though. When I look at our online banking and see more going onto the credit card than being paid off and more coming out of the savings account than going into it I think to myself ‘surely one income is plenty for two people? where is all that money going? how can we cut back our spending?’. It’s easy to justify spending and hard to stop. I can criticise middle aged, middle class women for throwing out perfectly good stuff when sorting donations for the fair not realising that the large student population in the area would snap it up. But surely my cutting back on giving or on spending time with people (because going out to dinner or feeding extra people costs money) instead of buying cheaper groceries or buying clothes from op-shops or getting rid of sky is just as bad, if not worse.

    ps. thanks for the provocation to think about this more and organise my thoughts.

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