Aesthetic Values

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 Leave a Comment

(Photo: Tiffany Clementi. Pictured: Adam Szymkowicz, Kelly O'Donnell, August Schulenburg, working on Adam's play CLOWN BAR)

After establishing our Core Values at the 5th annual retreat, we moved onto Aesthetic Values. There was plenty of discussion surrounding these values as well; including whether or not we even needed them.

After all, we're artist-driven, and good artists often shed aesthetics as they evolve from one project to the next. Worse, aesthetics can often devolve into generalizations where every theatre sounds like the other; or can become so specific they stifle creative exploration.

But it is helpful - when discussing potential plays for the season, or communicating our work to outside artists, or evaluating our work internally - to have some common aesthetic language. We therefore attempted to parse our creative DNA; the building blocks that make up the wildly diverse kinds of work we do. We've always felt drawn to the words "transformative theatre", and they have ended up in our mission statement; but what exactly does that mean?

Flux’s aesthetic is ensemble-artist driven and evolves according to the needs of our community.

Character-Driven: Our plays are illuminated by human choices, by how people change, and through the conflict and consequences of their actions.

Structural Complexity: Our plays contain layered worlds, multiple stories and shifting perspectives that cohere into a dynamic whole.

Juxtaposition: Our plays embrace collisions of different tones, styles and genres - often within a single moment.

Transformative Staging: Our plays take a single element (e.g. an actor, prop, set piece) and use it in multiple ways, trusting the rough magic of theatre and the audience’s imagination to build layers of meaning.

Moral Ambiguity: Our plays allow contradictory forces equal presence and challenge conventional notions of absolute right.

Audience Intimacy: Our plays seek the most direct route to share the experience of the characters with the audience to inspire collective catharsis.

As with Core Values, these Aesthetic Values emerged from a long and winding process. We began in 2008 by identifying key moments of heat in our production history.

We then grouped these moments into clusters, pairing them with other moments that seemed to share something essential. These clusters were then grouped again into larger categories.

In 2009, we attempted to define these categories, and that work continued into 2010. This allowed us to move quickly at the retreat to put the final touches on the values above.

Ideally, these values will serve as a way of talking about the work, and if we diverge from the values above, we do so knowingly. The values should serve as inspiration more than definition; direction rather than destination.

What do you think? Would you want to see the kind of theatre described above? If you have a company, have you defined Aesthetic Values; and if so, what advice do you have to share?