If you happen to be pursuing a BFA in theatre, a phrase you’ll hear on a daily basis is “status quo.” There’s no higher achievement than a play that takes on, satirizes, or generally attempts to tear down society as we know it. Every class is approached with the underlying assumption that the world as we know it is bad, and must be dismantled and rebuilt.
There’s a delightful irony to this whole song and dance. College students are supposedly paying for the privilege of learning from experts, but they all assume that anything that already exists is bad. Instinctive “hunches” are clearly much more important than the thousands of years of trial and error that led humanity to its current state.
When I started college, this way of thinking was completely foreign to me. I attended a century-old high school that prioritized tradition above all else, so I was briefly intrigued by my art professors’ punk-rock vibes. But the longer I spend here, the more it seems like a racket, and here’s why:
As a general rule, the world seems pretty great.
Not to say that things can’t be improved, but when I actually look at the world we’ve built, we’re probably 95% of the way to perfection. That last 5% is pretty big, but to live your life assuming that everything around you is evil and unhelpful seems exhausting. The older I get, the more this point seems to reaffirm itself. Every “status quo rule” that people tell me seems to end up being true. “Writing is never good until at least the fourth draft” wasn’t a fun pill to swallow, but sure enough, the experts were right. Same goes for “there’s no easy career path into entertainment, you just have to network a lot.” I could go on and on, but my point is that every traditional rule that my colleagues want to “challenge” seems to be working quite well.
When I write plays, I’m never a “burn the house down” kind of artist. I have no interest in making the audience uncomfortable, or provoking them to question the horrors of our world. Sometimes I get feedback that suggests my work “upholds the status quo, rather than challenging it.” And lately my response has been “So what?”
I’ll even take it a step further. I want my writing to not only uphold the status quo, but to make us appreciate it. The more teachers try to tell me that the world is terrible, the more it convinces me that it’s actually fantastic. And if I can use my writing to give that feeling to others, I call it a good day at the office.
If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn in college, it’s that people have been experimenting for centuries, and the practices that have survived to this point are probably pretty good. There’s nothing wrong with change, but academia’s obsession with change and criticism for its own sake is exhausting. I’d rather smell the roses than read a scholarly article about why they’re actually bad.