30 November 2016

"A Feminist Hamilton"

Announcing my new collaboration with my friend Jade Rosenberg!

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09 November 2016

A Tale of Two Theatres

The nature of theatre is somewhat tricky. On one hand, theatre is ephemeral; it happens at a specific time in a specific place to a specific set of people who happen to be gathered there. This is why Lorca, when asked if he would publish his plays, asked, “Why?” To him, and to many, theatre is not simply a text to be done over and over again; but that, of course, is the other hand. The works of Shakespeare, of Molière, of Sophocles continue to be produced at prodigious rates. The general public tends to favor works they know or that have a known name attached to them. Which brings me to the purpose of this writing: Musical Theatre.

Musical theatre has, perhaps, always existed. The works of the Ancient Greeks and others had choruses or some other definite music component. Shakespeare used song in a number of his plays, mostly his comedies. In the early 1800s, no less a composer than Mendelssohn was responsible for an enduring scoring of Shakespeare's A Midummer Night's Dream, from which we received our now-traditional wedding recessional. But the musical format we've come to know and love is uniquely American, twentieth-century in origin, having melded from a variety of forms into the two-act triple-threat spectacle in existence today.

Certainly, a fair number of shows are performed once and fade away. But I would argue that, moreso than so-called “straight” theatre, pieces in the musical theatre repertoire are repeated over and over again, to the delight of audiences all over.

As a trained actor and theatre practitioner, I hold the ideal of Lorca's theatre close to my heart. Theatre is a moment, an experience; and, once over, that experience can't be bought back. The play changes the participants (actors and spectators both), and they move on from that moment to the next having been changed and never needing to go back except in their memory of it.

As a trained musician and theatre producer, however, I see the benefit of replaying the hits, so to speak. The opera and oratorio world (another type of enduring music theatre) has been doing this for centuries, since at least 1650. How many more Carmens can our planet sustain? Infinite! Likewise with Gyspys, with Cabarets, and with (for better or for worse) Catses.

As we all do, according to Whitman, I contain multitudes.

These two sensibilities do not have to be so much at odds with each other. What makes the different Gypsys and Cabarets and Catses stand out is their interpretation and reinterpretation. How might The Threepenny Opera (a great example of a piece that so delicately stradles the line between musical and straight theatre, though perhaps not Brecht's intent) affect an audience today? Where are the resonances now as opposed to fifty, sixty, seventy years ago? The Lysistrata of ancient times can still say something to the modern audience and will do so, if allowed, for centuries to come. Directors such as Grotowski and van Hove have proved that repetition is not above the serious artist. Theatre directors and producers simply have to be bold enough to see it through their more current lens and not through the lens of the past. Nothing has meaning without context.

All of that said, we may be at a crisis point if more new work of quality isn't inducted into the culture. Too much nostalgia fills the market and we become denziens of the past instead of the present and future. We are like Rose or Sally in some way or another, but they are not us. We need stories for our time to share with each other—and generations to come. That is why it's important to support the artists of our time in equal measure to, if not moreso than, those of the past. The theatre must be constantly evolving.

I am encouraged by the work of such artists as Lin-Manuel Miranda who seem to have a grasp on the Zeitgeist and can deliver quality content of depth and maturity. I hope that we, as a society, can find such artists and support them thoroughly enough to keep our culture alive, thriving well into the future.