Hello, readers, we here at LGG&F have an announcement to make. Starting off 2015, we are taking a short break and will be on a hiatus for a couple days. We will return with new content January 6th, but until then, we’re reblogging some of our favorite posts for your enjoyment. Happy New Year, and we’ll be back soon! And also, if you like what we do here and are interested in joining the LGG&F team, don’t forget to check out our Careers page and drop us a line!
In the Heights tells the stories of multiple people living in the NYC barrio of Washington Heights. The music, composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is known for being one of the first hip-hop scores to find some success on Broadway. The production is also known for having a predominantly Latino cast and this is what really spoke to me.
As with many other forms of media, prostitution is shown as pretty much the lowest possible rung a woman can reach. Sometimes it’s used as a code word that means ‘she has a tragic backstory’; sometimes it’s used to show just how low she has been brought. Either way, if you’re a sex worker in a musical, odds are you’re gonna have a bad time.
Yes, this article marks the end of Theatre Thursdays as a weekly column here on Lady Geek Girl and Friends. We’ve loved having it as a feature on the site, but the time has come to shift our focus elsewhere. Don’t worry! There will still be the occasional post on various live performing arts! We just won’t be devoting weekly articles to the genre.
With the close of this column, I want to finally write an article that I’ve been playing around with in my head. I’ve had this idea gestating for a few years but never felt quite ready to put it into words. This is the story of the time I saw the musical In the Heights and realized how important representation in entertainment really is.
Recently I had the incredible fortune of facilitating a Theatre of the Oppressed institute for teenagers. Working with young people is a particular joy of mine, especially with their capacity to reach for concepts usually reserved for academics. I’ve been studying Theatre of the Oppressed for years, participating in workshops and master classes. But explaining my views on theatre to these young people, I learned that Theatre of the Oppressed provides a great (and simple) model for improving the theatre community at large and reversing many of its inherent injustices. What is Theatre of the Oppressed, you ask? I should start at the beginning.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the landmark work by Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, was first published in 1968. It is the the work credited with jumpstarting the critical pedagogy movement, a movement which would question the assumptions of not only the content of our educational system, but also the very techniques used. Among other conjectures, the book argues that the way we teach and what we teach (and therefore how and what we learn) is the reflection of a colonial history. In turn, those educational modes colonize the minds of the oppressed. This was highly relevant to Freire, who understood the experience of many Brazilians as continuing to represent the racial and economic structures of Portuguese colonization. The book is a courageous and radical criticism of the oppression inherent to society in Brazil, and around the world. So challenging were the ideas within that “most totalitarian states—risked cruel punishment, including imprisonment, if they were caught reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”
But perhaps the greatest contribution that Freire made was the notion that the most effective way to counteract oppression in education was to stop treating students like empty piggy banks waiting to be filled, or like the teacup in the zen koan. Rather, he opined, learners should participate in the creation of knowledge. They should have agency in what it is that they learn, so that they cannot be forced to swallow ideas that would lead them to believe that they are lesser than others, or somehow deserving of oppression. This is the idea that Brazilian theatre artist Augusto Boal used to develop the Theatre of the Oppressed, which, more than an international organization or ideology, is a collection of techniques and perspectives that aim to bring this idea to theatrical practice.
Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years never had a particularly long run in its off-Broadway productions, but it has proven immensely popular through the years. The story is simple: a young couple meets, marries, and divorces, but there’s a small twist that makes the show unique. The characters, Cathy and Jamie, each tell the story of their relationship in episodes. While Jamie’s go from start to finish, Cathy’s begin at the relationship’s demise and go back in time to their first meeting.
A movie adaptation of the musical was announced in early 2013, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan; however, with the exception of releasing the poster, there was almost no news concerningthe production. Few photos were released, no premiere date was announced, and I started to question whether the movie was still on track. Happily, the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this month and is scheduled for commercial release Valentine’s Day, 2015.
With the movie finally ready to be released, I have begun doing what every fan does when a book/TV show/play is announced for a film adaptation: wondering how the magic of the original will translate to the big screen. There are a lot of aspects of the musical which make it difficult for a film adaptation. With the exception of one scene, the two characters never dialogue; there isn’t really a narrative thread to the show, and the back and forth structure of the storytelling can be confusing.
This month, Keke Palmer will be the first Black actress to take on Cinderella’s glass slippers on Broadway, following in the recent footsteps of the likes of Norm Lewis being the first Black actor to star in Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera. We’ve talked a fair amount about colorblindcasting on this blog, and I’d say these are examples of the practice working for its desired benefits: making sure actors of color get a fair chance at playing a variety of roles, including leading roles that have long been considered “whites-only” territory. However, I’m asking the reader to consider: is Broadway seeing its first Black Cinderella, or merely the first Black actress to play Cinderella? What is the distinction and why does it matter? Allow me to elucidate.
Keke Palmer’s debut as Cinderella is September 9, right around the corner!
Christine Daaé may not be the title character of the musical The Phantom of the Opera, but she is the one with the most stage time and arguably goes through the most visible character arc. Despite these two facts, however, she’s not looked on too favorably by critics. She’s often thought of as flat, boring, and a character whose plot is in service of others’. Is there any truth to these claims? If so, is it possible to still consider Christine a worthwhile character from a feminist standpoint?
We spend a lot of time here talking about how diversity is important. Creators should want to include diverse characters in their creations, not out of some obligation to some imaginary race/gender/sexuality quota, but because seeing characters who look and act like them is important to marginalized communities, and because it makes the story more realistic: after all, white men are not the majority on our planet.
And even more, because it just makes a story more interesting. It’s a sad truth that women, people of color, people with disabilities, queer people, trans people, and people at the intersection of two or more of those descriptors have it harder in life. I’m not saying that cishet abled white guys can’t struggle, but changing any one of those qualifiers (gay guy, abled woman, black guy, trans woman) adds another difficulty level in the game of life. And while this is a tragic fact in the real world, in storytelling it allows for a much wider range of conflicts. Today I’m going to look at a few different examples of plays where diversity has made me even more invested in an already powerful story.