Friday, May 2, 2008

Art Gone Bad

The life of an artist can be tough. You wait for inspiration, work to perfect your craft, and make yourself vulnerable by revealing your creative brain-child to the world in the hopes that you will be showered with love and admiration in return. But what if your attempts at opera are met with snickers instead of sighs? What if your dazzling dance produces only red faced embarassment?

With any luck, your friends will go on with life and be polite enough to never bring up the moronic free verse poem about the guy who dumped you, or your off-key karaoke again. But occasionally someone's level of incompetence in the fine arts rises to a stunning level. While we dither unproductively, achieving only moderate embarrassment, there are the gloriously incompetent performers and artists who elevate a lack of talent to dizzying new heights. They possess the magic qualities that separate a William Hung (the American Idol reject with a record contract) from all the other folks who were axed for singing flat. Their badness makes us cringe so much that it turns into a smile and a kind of stunned admiration that a person who clearly has so little talent could put himself out there with complete abandon.

Schadenfreude, Baby! has an entire section devoted to these heroes of artistic incompetence. Yesterday I learned of another entrant to this unenviable hall of fame. The play was "Moose Murders." Directed by Arthur Bicknell, it opened and closed on the same night and went down in history in the words of the New York Times as "the standard of awfulness against which all Broadway flops are judged."

New York Magazine said it appeared to have been staged by “a blind director repeatedly kicked in the groin.”

Its reputation for badness has given it a second life with performances at community theaters, staged readings at bowling alleys, and a "performance art" version at the Contemporary Art Center in Rochester, New York and at the famous restaurant for the New York theater set, Sardi's.

I learned about this achievement in theatrical incompetence when it was used as the subject of one of the quizzes on NPR's game show Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me. For a short time, you'll be able to use this link to listen to the panelists observations on this Broadway classic.