Everything is drama, especially when you teach it in middle school and high school. I taught both for 30 years, so I feel I know of which I speak. And, to top it off I have been writing plays for about 46 years. These have been comedies for young people to perform. I follow the genre melodrama, which is one joke less than Vaudeville. I am a fan of television that uses clever words and pratfalls instead of inappropriate language. Much of what I watch therefore is in black and white. Maybe this makes me stodgy, and not “with it.” So be it.
In melodramas, the bad guy wears a black hat, the good guy wears a white hat and, the sweet damsel in distress appears helpless. Ah, the key word here is “appears.” In the past these stereotypes were made into facts. Today we make fun of them, gently. It is OK to make fun of the villain when he plots and plans but those plans do not come off properly. The hero may be brave and strong, but sometimes he is clumsy and trips up a rescue. And maidens of today have the power to create their own futures, and take care of everyday problems like the mortgage or unwanted suitors. They are Wonder Women!
Most of what we do in a day is ordinary, not mind blowing. When people ask me, “Why do you still do plays? We now have movies, television, DVs, and computers with books and games downloaded.” My answer is always that plays are real. They are live, without special effects from a computer. They are the ultimate gamble. If you think the odds are large at a casino, guess again. Producing, performing, or sponsoring a play is the most stressful and exciting exercise you can have. You count on yourself and others with your company. Decades ago I began Melodrama Masters, a company which performed at Wildlife West for 20 years. When you join a company, it is special; you share a certain magic that I believe is not found in any other profession. It is a real bond between those who have trod the boards.
Once upon a time there was no television, no radio, no musical instruments except drums, string, or pipes. Music was done with voices only and occasional clapping. The world was dull and silent, and birds were the best sound around. People sang and passed down history in song and it became holy to sing of God. Then, about the time the Greeks had figured out olive oil and had built large auditoriums, one guy named Thespis left the Greek choir. He stood alone and said his lines rather than sing them with the rest. He stood out. He was an actor. Now I will not go into the egos of actors, but mostly they have made our lives better and less boring.
Shakespeare is still looked up to and revered as the Bard who knows all and sees all and has written all, despite writing hundreds of years ago. This week I got to see two plays at Popejoy. The first, my son gave me as a gift for my upcoming birthday in April. It was Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This was performed by a professional company out of New York. They were well rehearsed and knew every line. We sat in the balcony or mezzanine. At it turned out, the players knew their lines so well, they rushed to pour out every bit of the words Shakespeare had written. But they were lost to the audience. It was a shame because I know they rehearsed each word of the 2-hour show. And to top it off, Shakespeare himself wrote what is said in the play. The line is delivered by the Athenian Duke Theseus, “Is there no play?” “A play there is, my lord, some ten words long, which is as brief as I have known a play; but by ten words, my lord, it is too long, which makes it tedious.” The actors were well-rehearsed, the audience was not.
The next play was also an early birthday gift, “Kinky Boots,” again at Popejoy. I went with my good friend Nancy Thobe, her husband, Dick, and Sandra Quinlan, another dear friend. This play was crafted by Harvey Fierstein and the music was by Cindy Lauper. It rocked. The story was about a shoe factory in Northern England that was about to close and needed a new product to sell. A talented entertainer, Lola, came to the factory and requested strong boots to dance in, and the story began. The plot made the rounds of good behavior and bad behavior, with a fairy tale ending. They made the boots, learned some lessons and had a great finale. The dancing and the music were great. Both plays were entertaining, and both, though written four hundred years apart, heralded the same message: “Be good to one another and sing loud.”
Support local theater as well as professional. It takes real heroic effort to face an audience—try it some time. Roaring Mouse. waiting to exit stage right, out.