That is, it seems that there is always a new musical based off of some existing property, where the source is often a non-musical entity. I am a lover of theatre from a young age, taking in my first professional theatre shows as a child of seven years. I’ve been seeing Broadway shows since the single digits, and yet, I find myself pulled in two different directions by musical theatre. There are some shows that I’m unreasonably fond of, like In the Heights, Tim Rice’s Aida, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, Wicked, The Scotsboro Boys, and Spring Awakening. In fact, there’s a good list of the best recent musicals over on Buzzfeed (I deem it good because it includes almost all my favorites).
But there is many a musical that is just bad because it attempts to cover a weak or hackneyed story with music and spectacle. Now, certainly this is doable; it’s possible to include enough high notes and bright lights to distract most audience members from the fact that your show is garbage. Musical theatre however, really requires more, not less. An emphasis on spectacle over content can really be the death of a show, like Spider-Man, where other musicals that are just plain bad, like Leap of Faith. That’s not to say that the success or failure of a show is necessarily tied to its goodness or badness.
Last weekend was my mom’s birthday, and as part of her present we all went to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway. While I certainly wasn’t expecting to hate it, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away either; I didn’t know much about the story except what my mom had told me, and I’m not the biggest fan of jukebox musicals (musicals based on pop music). Despite all that, I’m happy to report that it was actually a beautiful and touching show.
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.
Another Disney animated film has made the move to Broadway! Aladdin, which has been in development since 2010, premiered first in a Seattle production in 2011, and finally made its debut in the Big Apple in March of 2014. I was wondering if its journey to the Great White Way was going to give it a Great White Makeover, so I took a peek at the cast bio page. And well, huh. It’s certainly not entirely white-washed as I feared, and we see quite a diversity of actors: many African-American actors, a pretty decent percentage of both Latin@ and Asian actors, a few white actors, and several Ambiguously Ethnic actors. Did the casting directors purposefully say, “Let’s build a diverse cast?” or did they say, “Any brown people please”? I will explain my concerns in more detail after the jump. Continue reading →
Once upon a time, I more or less swore that I wouldn’t see the Evita tour. I love the show and had never seen it live, but I was insulted that the producers claimed the show needed to close on Broadway due to a lack of qualified leads, while still immediately making plans for a tour. I stuck to my one-man boycott and refrained from buying a ticket. That is, until I got an e-mail offer for $30 orchestra seats and found a third row, limited view ticket. My resolve weakened by the promise of being so close to the action for such a low price, I bought the ticket.
Did the production manage to pierce through my jaded disposition? Read below to find out! Continue reading →
This is my last post as a regular writer for Lady Geek Girl & Friends. It’s been a wonderful yearlong ride, so big thanks to everyone here at the blog and you all for reading my posts. I hope that I’ve written something in the past twelve months that made you think a little. Now that we’ve gotten all the sappiness out of the way, let’s talk about theatre. More specifically, let’s talk about diversity in theatre. I’m always on the lookout for good, diverse theatre, as well as projects and performances that reach out to non-mainstream audiences. I’ve made argument after argument about the importance of more inclusive theatre. At this stage, to rehash each and every one for you would be redundant. So let me take you somewhere else. Continue reading →
Imagine, if you will, the following: Tom Hiddleston killing it. Hard, right? Not simply being pretty good, or reasonably impressive, but really killing it. And not just killing it, but killing everyone. Hiddles has taken his bit back to London’s West End, where he is currently starring in a production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. This underrated revenge tragedy follows a battle-hardened Roman general who, betrayed for his tyrannical leanings, moves to take revenge on the city itself. The production, running at London’s Donmar Warehouse (which is technically in the West End) until February 8, has been widely lauded.