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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Theatre and I

My history with the stage is... complicated.

I used to go with my family all the time to Story Book Theatre's musical productions as the Carco Theatre. I remember enjoying those shows immensely, and I've occasionally gone there with my family in recent years. The theatre there is a bit silly to me now, but I still have good memories of it.

When I was in elementary school, I was part of my church's children's choir, KWAM (Kids With A Mission). We put on small musical productions for our church. I sang in the choir, played a few parts, and said a few lines. I have a lot of good memories from there. I even got KWAM Kid of the Year in my final year there. I can't say that I learned much about the finer points of acting and singing, or the finer points of anything theatre related, but I still had a fairly good time.

My next experience with the theatre was my Musical Theatre class in Junior High. There I began acting and singing in earnest, if not particularly well. It was a pretty fun class, and I made some good friends there. I wound up playing the Wolf in Into the Woods, Jr. I pretty much made a complete fool of myself both on and off the stage, for in those days of youthful folly, I saw fit to play the buffoon. As I was stuck in my uncomfortable Wolf costume backstage most of the time and could not get a hold of a video recording of the play, I have no idea whether the play itself was good or bad. But I do know that we players put a lot of effort into the production and that our teacher was just as enthusiastic and dedicated as we were. In sum, I consider that class to have been a positive experience overall.

Since then, I have not participated in any theatrical production whatsoever. However, there is no end to the amount of such productions that I have attended, none of which were particularly good.

Aside from the Story Book Theatre productions that I have occasionally gone to, I have seen several of my youngest sister's church musicals (now called Agape Kid's Choir as opposed to KWAM). I hate to speak ill of anything done with a good heart and a sincere spirit, especially from my own church, but these children's church musicals aren't exactly high class entertainment. In case it helps, however, I have been to plenty of non-church theatrical productions which can be described the same way. There were a couple of school musicals involving friends of my aforementioned youngest sister, such as Honk! Jr. and Narnia: The Musical. (The latter is a sad case of a great idea stunted by a poor script.)

The only "professional" theatre productions I've attended, other than Story Book Theatre, of course, are a few productions put on by the Renton Civic Theatre. I once went to a 70's musical version of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen from Verona. Seriously. My dad and I scored some tickets and thought it might be fun. It actually quite stupid, silly, and dull, not being so ridiculous as to qualify as charmingly goofy, but going completely over the top. Needless to say, my dad and I left during the intermission, after which we went to the only late-night movie I've ever been to, The Last Airbender, which was arguably equally awful, if not more so. But that's another post.

Just two Sundays ago, my dad and I went to see another production from the Renton Civic Theatre. To be specific, it was their Summer Teen Musical, starring High School and college age actors from around the area. I was very excited to go to this play, as I believed that it would be a fun experience. What was it called? The Wedding Singer, that's what. If I had done my research, I would known that The Wedding Singer is the name of a 1998 Adam Sandler movie, on which the play was plainly based. This alone should have been enough to deter me, as Adam Sandler is the only actor whom I genuinely loathe. At least, he is now. I now thank the most high God that I failed to persuade the rest of my family to attend the play with my father and me.

Suffice it to say, the play was vulgar and base, substituting profanity for wit and sexual innuendo for punchlines. If what I witnessed was capable of staining the suit I wore, it would never have come out. As it is, the horrid stain upon my memory remains. I'm sure it doesn't help that the movie the play was adapted from wasn't exactly the best source material, but surely whoever was responsible for that monstrosity of a play was intelligent enough to understand that it was complete pigswill. What kind of person who works with High School students honestly wants them to parade in front of their parents, friends, and relatives belting out song lyrics which are awash in obscenities? I honestly don't know, though if the enthusiastic applause of my fellow audience members was anything to go by, I was evidently the only one who cared about this rather disconcerting implication. (As a side note, I must say that as appalled as I was by the crass jokes that gushed forth from the actors' mouths, I was even more shocked at the laughter that was coming from mine.) I do not mean to disparage the acting and singing talent of the cast, but the play's libretto was fantastically foul.

I am now at a crossroads regarding theatre. All of my experience with theatre has been substandard at best and outrageously tasteless at worst. Should I seek out better examples of theatre and the stage, or should I give it all up and stick with movies and books? Are my experiences a survey of the whole of modern theatre, or is it only an unfortunate dip into a muddy portion of the pond? Am I a theatre person? Is theatre for me?

To answer my own questions, I don't know. I'd have to go see more plays, do better preliminary research, and spend more money. Until then, I earnestly reach out to you, gentle reader, for a bit of help. Are there any books on theatre you could recommend? Have any of you experience with professional theatre? Is all theatre as bowdlerized as disco Shakespeare was, or as profane and bawdy as The Wedding Singer was? I certainly hope not. Until then, "So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends.”(Puck, A Midsummer Night's Dream.)

Fun fact: Into the Woods is set to be made into a movie by Disney, to be released this December. Considering what the full, unabridged play actually was like, I'd be cautious. It's not exactly Into the Woods Jr.

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