Theatre Tulsa is bringing Fiddler on the Roof back to Tulsa at a propitious time: It just opened last weekend in revival on Broadway to rave reviews. The New York Times has been bringing out one article after another about this most iconic of iconic musicals. If you'd like to whet your appetite for Theatre Tulsa's April show (runs April 15-30), you might like this article about the new production or this one where prominent actors and actresses (Josh Groban, Bette Midler, Harvey Fierstein) reminisce about their experiences performing in the show.
Looking for possible shows to do at your theatre? Or maybe just headed to New York in the near future? Couldn't hurt to see what the New York critics think were the best shows this year.
Ahh, Christmas at the theatre. It's a weird, wild, wonderful place. People who haven't been to a a play all year will come out to see A Christmas Carol for the 27th time. It's kinda like church.
I saw two plays this weekend. It’s a Wonderful Life played out at the Coleman Theatre Beautiful in Miami, an amazing theater fully restored to its 1920’s grandeur, a genuine architectural treasure and reminder of how even small towns used to regard their theatres as centerpieces of civic community. The second was watching my 4 year old grandson participate in a nativity in the tiny fellowship hall of Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Bixby.
I could write pages on the Coleman theater, and if you’ve never been it’s worth the trip. But it’s not going to come as too big a shock that I enjoyed watching my grandson more. But more than that, I enjoyed the performance more, and that is something of a shock, even to me, enough so that I had to think about why that was the case.
With apologies to my church friends, it’s not because I like the story better. The Nativity story (actually a mashup of two radically different Biblical accounts) is beautiful in its way. Apart from any religious belief, if you can’t be affected by a young refugee mother giving birth in difficult circumstances, I’d advise a heart check. And apart from religion, just looking at it artistically, it makes for a great still life tableaux, and has inspired some truly beloved music. But as stage drama it has serious drawbacks, that I won’t go into here. Whereas Wonderful Life the movie, in spite of the sentimentality and Jimmy Stewart’s silliness at the end, remains eerily powerful in places. There’s a reason it’s a classic. So no, not the story.
No, oddly enough, it’s the acting. Wait a second, I’m not saying the Miami Little Theatre has terrible actors, while the children at my daughter’s tiny church are precocious prodigies. OBVIOUSLY, from a technical standpoint the acting was stronger in Miami.
What was different was a sense of the importance of what was happening onstage. For the adults, it was play, a Christmas chestnut, nothing you’d want to take too seriously. For reasons you are free to scoff at or criticize, the kids thought what they were doing was more important than that, and it showed.
To understand that, you have to know that there was minimal adult input in the ‘production.’ The kids had almost complete ownership of everything that went on onstage. The recorder choir wrote its own harmonies and arrangement; the props and set pieces were cut from cardboard, detailed with Sharpies, and (obviously) constructed by the cast. There were no stage managers pushing kids onstage for their entrances. The older kids (oldest 15) helped shepherd the little ones, but every child hit their marks, picked up their cues, and spoke their lines in a clear, enunciated voice without prodding. No pauses for dramatic effect or waiting for an entrance, no show offs, no flubbed lines or giggles.
What the hell? How can these kids do on their own what I spend 6 weeks with an adult cast working on?
The only thing I can figure out, is that they thought what they were doing was more serious than that, and too important to screw around with.
For the love of heaven, PLEASE don’t think I’m saying that Christians or religious people in general make better actors, because in my experience that has usually not been the case. The baggage that Christians carry (for good or for ill) sometimes gets in the way of them reaching their full potential onstage, though that is by no means true in all cases.
What I am saying is that people’s motivations matter. Doing it for yourself is not the same as doing it for the group. Doing it with your head is not the same as doing it with your heart. A reenactment is not the same as a creation.
Again, you will have your own ideas on church plays, church, kids and church, Jimmy Stewart, and me writing about my grandson. In fact, I invite you to share any of those ideas freely in the comments (this goes for any of my posts). Why should I have all the fun?
Thanks for reading.
The NY Times has a wide-ranging article that amounts to a Valentine to theatre in London. It's a little bit of this and a little bit of that: information, impressions, anecdotes. A nice, relaxed read from someone who obviously thinks that theatre is part of what makes life 'good,' for lack of a better word, and enjoys writing about it. He even says nice things about Cats. Find 12 minutes out of your busy day and be refreshed.
First, a little context. I went back to school (University of Texas at Dallas) to finish my BA when I was 38, and started grad school at 40. My last semester of classes, iirc, was Spring 1992. On the first day of the fifth course that I'd taken with Fred Curchack, we sat in a circle on the floor, and, as part of his orientation, he told us this story.
The dean, Robert Corrigan (who would pass less than a year later) stopped him in the hall on his way to class. "What are you teaching this semester?" Fred informed him the class was Performance Anthropology. To which Corrigan replied, "Ha! All your classes are the same. They're all Curchack 101."
Fred looked at us, and, without any further explanation but in a voice that made it clear nothing more needed to be said, informed us, "But he's wrong."
Every class you took with Fred gave you more access, opened the door a little wider onto his knowledge and skill. If the first class was Curchack 101, the five courses I took with him amounted to a graduate degree.
Here's a couple of videos of his work for you to enjoy. The first contains some excerpts from his one man Tempest, "Stuff as Dreams Are Made On," an example of how a solo actor can create a startling "theatre of images" equal to or more powerful than a stage full of special effects. The second, his "Burying Our Father: A Biblical Debacle," shows Fred's clown work and gives a taste of shadow play and the important role music plays in his work. The second actor in "Father" is Laura Jorgensen, also a brilliant actor and now his wife. Enjoy.
Though this article by Charles McNulty of the LA Times starts out as a review, it develops into something much more interesting. The title, "Character Development Counts in Bringing Plays to Life Onstage," is so inane I assumed it was satire (along the lines of "The Sun Counts in Bringing Daylight to the Earth"), but was pleasantly surprised to find a coherent and eloquent theory of what makes theatre fascinating for many of us. Here's a sample:
"So consider me officially behind the times: Years after postmodernism declared "character" dead, I still believe that the human being is the essential building block of the theater.
"My taste isn't especially conservative . . . but I prefer even the wildest rides to be personally inhabited. A theater of images, no matter how visually entrancing, is numbing to me. Some go to the theater to spin theoretical concepts. I go to reflect on the mystery of consciousness and existence."
It's thoughtful stuff, and while I like a "theater of images" as well (on one level, isn't that what ballet is?) McNulty's emphasis on human emotion and vulnerability mirrors my own belief that the best theatre deals with honesty and confession, not just creativity.
Tomorrow, to give equal time to the postmodern theatre, I'll post a video or two of my teacher, Fred Curchack's work. Zounds.
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