This semester, I’m taking a class on French culture. This week in class, my professor asked us what we thought some defining factors of American culture are. Answers from my classmates were: the American dream, freedom and equality for all, instant gratification, independence of the individual, and a mix of different cultures. As I’ve learned thus far, some defining factors of French culture are language, heritage, music, art, food, theatre, and pride in one’s country. And French people take these things seriously. Yes, France has been around as it’s own nation for much longer than the United States, but I’m struck by some differences between these two descriptions.
When I think of America, I think of stereotypical things like fast food, big cars, and football. I don’t think of art. I don’t think of music. I don’t think of a myriad of things I’d like to think of. Yet, America has all of those things, surely.
I suppose the fact that we’re not known for any specific type of far reaching cultural practice speaks to the diversity of our nation, but at the same time, I crave a cultural heritage to root myself in. I’m a little bit German, and a little bit French, but neither of these feel near enough for me to connect to culturally. And yet, I don’t specifically feel thoroughly American. Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of the idea of “universality through specificity,” or finding the essential human qualities in a story that we can all connect to regardless of gender, race, or whatever. When searching for some kind of artistic American identity, there’s only so far back I can look—and I’m not particularly in love with what I find.
In her blog post on HowlRound, Hannah Wolf discusses the beginnings of her time in Romania, studying the artistic culture and theatrical tradition to gain new perspectives. She begins her post:
“‘Is all new theater here about communism?’ I ask my friend and host, Ioana Moldovan, after seeing yet another play about the fear, terrible transgressions, and bloodshed that Romania went through between 1945 and 1989. ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘because it’s still happening, it’s the only thing we know.'”
There is an immediacy to this which speaks to the state of Romania as it is today, and the immediate social/political issues it’s immersed in. Just from reading Wolf’s blog post, I got the sense that whatever theatre is happening there now is important. It is important because it is entirely relevant, current, and speaks directly to the people of Romania. This is exciting.
And then I realized that I’m not particularly excited about the current theatre scene in America. Maybe this is close-minded. Maybe I haven’t seen or been involved in enough new American plays. Maybe it’s just impossible to have this kind of theatre when our country is so large and diverse. However, now I wonder what it would be like if people were making more theatre about the communities they’re living in, speaking to a more specific audience, and the immediate issues they were encountering.
I’m just looking for something closer to home to dig my roots into, I suppose, and wondering where and when I will find that.