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As my loyal fans know, I'm a bit obsessed with The Guardian (UK)'s theatre blog. Why?

Because those crazy people update it like 6 times a day. I wish I had a staff of theater people writing serious thoughts about theater that often! Instead, I only have me, and theater is only theoretically about 15 percent of my job time anyway. (That might be an exaggeration. I might MAKE it 15 percent because I like it.)

So I rely on the writers to help me out in my own thinking and blogging. And today, the winner is ...

Andy Field asking, "What's Wrong with Pretentious?"

I am ignoring the lead-not-a-real-lead, which is one of those things where the writer was warming up and forgot to cut the warm-up exercise (hey, we all do it every once in a while).

I like to skip to paragraph 3, in which Field begins to talk about theatre in the UK:

In this country we are terrified of appearing pretentious. Somehow it has become theatre's cardinal sin. Be boorish, loutish, crude, superficial, snobbish, elitist or just plain boring, but please, whatever you do, don't be pretentious.

OK, is this true in the U.S.? I don't think so. We're pretty clear that Broadway musicals — say, Legally Blonde or, er, A Christmas Carol — aren't deeply thoughtful, but no one expects them to be, right? And I think, though I might be wrong, that theater critics tend to want intellectual engagement from their theater.

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I know I do. Apparently, according to Field, anyway, that's not the same in the UK:

In this environment, the term has taken on a sinister life of its own. It's a weaselly, insidious term used with smug certainty to dismiss work without a second thought. It's a nasty, smirking insult used to dirty forms of theatre that are not to the taste of the accuser. It's a deadening label that silences dissent, because how do you respond to being accused of being pretentious?

Good point. Circling back to the beginning I ignored, Field talks about how "racist" (and fascist) is the worst term a person could call someone else. And how does one respond to those accusations without sounding like a right idiot? "I'm not a racist, but ..." Um, yeah, that won't work. "I'm not pretentious, but ... " Hm.

Oops, I'm off-topic here. What's my point? Well, that I like "pretentious arthouse crap," and that, as Field says, is OK ... (the rest is from him; that's why it's in itals, just in case you were wondering):

Which is not to say that we should blindly embrace everything bizarre or confusing or new that theatre throws up. But dismissing it as pretentious only serves to stifle, rather than promote debate. It's an easy get-out clause for people who don't deserve one.

And anyway, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, "pretentious" has a secondary meaning to "affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance". It can also mean "making demands on one's skill, ability, or means". I like the sound of that. That wonderful pretentious sense of over-ambitious reckless endeavour; surely that's how all the best theatre is made?

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