Street People

The People Project exposes the dysfunctions of the region

The truth is, to paraphrase the title of a collection of William Kittredge short stories, we are not all in this together.

The morning of the People Project Gala, the Metro Theatre Company presented its new play, More Stuff, to a half-filled auditorium of giddy children and adults at the Missouri Historical Society. The play -- as it was created by the performing ensemble -- is, as some of the best plays are, about nothing much, which means it's about what's most vital to living. A janitor's chores are interrupted by a troupe of nonverbal sprites, dressed in primary colors, who invite him to play. That play involves a variety of props -- ladders, empty water containers, balls, mallets, an accordion, a penny whistle, a kazoo, a red bicycle (whole and in parts) -- with the characters discovering imaginative ways to make delightful use of them. For an hour, the audience was captivated and entertained, watching precisely what fun is.

Metro has gained its international reputation for creating children's theater that never talks down to its audience. Whatever morals are contained in the company's work are suggested or implied -- nobody is going to come out and say, "You see, boys and girls, what can happen if you cooperate with others and are open to possibilities?" That's the kind of dreck Metro never goes near. They treat children as people with minds that wonder and are up for challenge. Although the term "taking risks" has become a cliché in relation to the arts, Metro is a true risk-taking enterprise. The integrity is palpable in everything the company does.

Metro strives for what is best in itself as a group of artists and what is best in its audiences. The sad lesson of the People Project is that, from the very beginning, it has approached the most common of denominators (people), dumbed down to the dumbest levels (words such as "artist" and "sculpture" were avoided in promotional material, replaced by "creative agent" and "people figure" so as not to sound elitist), as if that's what it takes to bind together a region, as if that's what fun is. Arneill admits that he asks himself what the value of these works are as art, a question that isn't so hard to answer if you aren't involved with the process and judge the product from a streetwise distance.

The best art -- and Metro knows this -- always, always subverts the status quo and takes its inspiration from fierce gods. Artists who extend offerings to the banal desires of the Chamber of Commerce risk the atrophy that comes with ease.

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