It’s funny what we’ll turn our nose up at, the things we choose to be snobby about can cover the gamut. It doesn’t escape anyone, you can be picky about which light beer to drink as much as you can be about drinking a Bordeaux before its time. People have beef jerky preferences, it’s not only a high brow trait.
Sometimes I think Snobbery could be added as the 8th deadly sin, it would have changed the screenplay of Se7en in a funny way, “The killer seems to only commit his murders in apartments with views of Central Park.” At very least it is an unattractive trait. I try to avoid it, but have been called out for the behavior in the same calendar day.
Snobbery, in some cases, is making an assumption. It’s saying, I know what this is without trying or before experiencing the object or event. It is also a cultural and societal dick measuring contest, but I’ll live to tell that story another day.
This example brings me back to Florida, which, apologies to Florida, is not often thought of as the arts and letters State. In this bait and tackle shop of a community lives a small professional theater named American Stage, in St. Petersburg. It is an Equity house that has produced more than 25 years of theater, and once, many years ago, helped me find ballast on my rocky artistic path. My time at American Stage, which I chronicle in my book The Drama King, was an artistic life vest. It’s presence on my line graph has carried me forward to this very day. I should make a pilgrimage to this place once a year, alas, I do not.
A few months ago, I was back in St. Pete, visiting family for a graduation, and my girlfriend had a health crisis, that added an unfortunate B-plot to the festivities. My brother and his wife planned among other events a night at the theater, which was in the middle of its run of the John Logan play, Red. Since leaving New York I must admit that I don’t keep up with the New York theater scene. I was unaware of this play and its London and Broadway success. Sitting here now, I am making a note to turn off sports talk radio and to get the Sunday New York Times once in while, so my snobbery, I mean culture muscle, doesn’t atrophy.
I think snobbery and ingratitude are co-mingled – perhaps I should speak for myself. In the haze of hospital visits and lack of sleep, I was not looking forward to the play. Inconsiderately, I shared these feelings with my ailing girlfriend. “I don’t want to see this slow ass ponderous play about a guy and his paint brush, I hate that bougie shit, I have other things to worry about than this high brow, impractical bullshit.” I said. “Why don’t you go, it might inspire you,” my girlfriend said. I began again and was interrupted, “Why don’t you go, so you can stop ranting at my bedside.” I went to the play, toots sweet.
I was less than enthused on the way to my brother’s house. I was stressing out as the logistics of getting 10 people to the theater on time started to unravel. My theater snob iterating that “It is unacceptable to arrive to the theatre late, curtain is 8PM sharp.” We got there in time to hear the bells chime that it was time to enter the theater. I had a stirring in me, seeing the set and holding the program I started hearing from that bug that bit me all those years ago. I scanned the space, trying to locate where the sound and light booth were, and looking up at the lights. I scanned the room and braced myself against the tension of whether the crowd would settle in and pay attention, which since we’re talking about snobbery was a note to myself.
Looking at the program I saw only two characters, which means the actors would have to handle a ton of dialogue and knowing the likely rehearsal time had me worried. I needn’t have worried. The actors Gregg Weiner and Andrew Perez were up to the task. The play is a fictionalized account of the artist Mark Rothko and an assistant he hires, berates, and maybe teaches along the way. The plot centers on the commission of a mural for a restaurant, but really leaves room to discuss and battle over the nature of art, what is art, what is color, where does the intellect come into the picture. It is a full length one-act play, performed with no intermission. It went by with more ease than I expected it to, and got me thinking in the ways the playwright intended, which is to say it has many levels. The stagecraft was stellar at every turn. I wanted to read the script to see where the words were interpreted and where the author had crafted the scene. I could feel the collaboration, the professionalism, and the Floridians eating it up.
This is where the snobbery and gratitude lines came to cross. I had a chance to opt out, my girl was in the hospital, I wasn’t sleeping, I needed a minute to myself. The last thing I wanted was this appointment to keep. And, yet, this piece of art about art in an artistic desert was doing more for my battered psyche than a nap or some mindless television, or god forbid scanning social media. It was good. It was about something. It was, dare I say, invigorating to my spirit. It was doing its job.
I grew up in a family that appreciated the arts. Museums and books are a shared passion for all my siblings, and my parents. It dawned on me as I sat with my family and the next generation of it, that this art thing is passed down. It was being absorbed. If it is done well it feels like it relates to you in a specific way — for me, because I’m an actor and performed with this company many iterations ago, for my sister, who was an art history major and didn’t need the notes in the program to know about Mark Rothko. I wonder what it was for the kids, my nieces and nephew? Maybe it doesn’t matter, there will be a time when they remember, which is another thing that art does.
So as I circle back, I was being snobbish, because I didn’t want to watch a play in Florida, when I wouldn’t in LA, and I was reminded that those actors on stage were just like me when I take the stage as a comic. Unknown to most, but talented, and all they really need is for someone to give them a chance, which I don’t mean in the industry sense, but a chance to be seen as they proceed to do art, the industry caring or not caring to varying degrees. There are artists out there, grinding, cranking out good work, in places some snobs would call godforsaken outposts. And all they need is a place to show their wares, and I am one of them. The note to take for me, is sometimes being in the audience is part of the process. And sometimes in the last place you expected you are inspired.
A track record like the one at American Stage is something to be proud of, I thank them for a great night at the theater, on Earth.