Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What is Good is Given Back: The Gift-Giving Circle and What it Means for the Arts

By Chas LiBretto

“The Gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him—it cannot fail…”
- Walt Whitman

“The gift must always move.” If you’ve read Lewis Hyde’s incredible book "The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World," you’ll be aware of this central, and oft-forgotten tenet of gift-giving and gift-receiving: that a gift in question cannot stand still. “As it is passed along,” he says “the gift may be given back to the original donor, but this is not essential. In fact, it is better if the gift is not returned but is given instead to some new, third party.”

This, of course, has major implications in the not-for-profit world. Legally, not-for-profits, even theater companies, are charities, and so what they create is in essence a gift to their communities. By its very nature, a non-profit takes the gifts it receives, monetary and otherwise, and then immediately puts those gifts to use and enacts its mission.

Hyde calls this the “labor of gratitude” and in a sense, it means “our gifts are not fully ours until they have been given away.” I bring this all up because, with your help, Psittacus Productions is poised to enact its mission and engage its community. Isolated academics like Harold Bloom believe the Western Canon ought to be locked away, and tell us that that the plays they’ve deemed canon-worthy should not be performed, and should be kept in dusty libraries for the perusal of scholars and scholars alone. Pioneers like the Public Theater’s Joseph Papp made it their mission to bring the Classics to the people in their purest form, but we at Psittacus are uncomfortable even with the idea of what “pure” means.

This is a down and dirty age, and we believe that the stories that have stuck with us all these many centuries are strong enough to survive experimentation. We believe it is our job to undo the “canonization” and make these stories as accessible to as large an audience as we can gather, be it by reinventing Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” as a comic book come to life, turning “Hamlet” into a police procedural, or creating a modern SF epic out of Goethe’s “Faust.” These are important stories that still say things about who We are, even in the 21st century.

When discussing cultural snobbery and elitism, I often return to Michael Moorcock, an English writer whose body of work has bounced from “genre” to “mainstream” throughout his entire career. In an interview, he states that he “writes for a reader like [himself]—who has read widely and has enjoyed a wide range of music and the other arts – but is part of a broad, common culture, not an isolated academic culture. There are…more of us than there are of them. More of us who read (or watch) Shakespeare one day and Theodore Sturgeon the next.”

Psittacus Productions feels the same way about theater audiences. Our gift, as it were, is to make the old stories entertaining and moving to as many people as we can find. We give this gift to our audience, be they the people who see us at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, or the students of high schools in East LA. Your gift will allow this to happen, and will give us all louder voices in the culture. We ask you to join us in this, the core commerce of art: the giving of gifts.

As a 501c3-pending organization, your gift is tax-deductible. Checks or money orders may be sent to:

PSITTACUS PRODUCTIONS, 237 S. Avenue 51, Los Angeles, CA 90042

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