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Hey mom and dad. 

I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the love and support you gave me in my passion for theatre. I know it wasn’t your first choice, Dad, but I appreciate your finding a way to love it. One thing I’m most grateful for is your acquired love of Shakespeare.  Going to Cedar City with you guys to the Utah Shakespeare Festival has been an enormous benefit to me and my education. Without that, I wouldn’t have half the handle on Shakespeare I do now, and frankly, I may have ignored straight theatre altogether and lived my life only knowing musicals.

Since I know you two love Shakespeare so much, I thought I might introduce you to another beautiful sect of theatre: the Spanish Golden Age.  Many Spanish Golden Age plays could almost pass for Shakespeare. One particular Spanish playwright, Lope Felix De Vaga Carpio, had similar play structures, with many changing scenes and progressive story lines that could occur over long periods of time, and even the same characters. Well, not exactly the same, but the same type. Mom, remember how much you loved the oaf in the Merry Wives of Windsor?  Lope Felix De Vaga Carpio used the same sotck character of the compulsive liar, usually silly and fat as well, in his plays.  There are also examples of the same type characters all across the board from English Renaissance to Spanish Golden Age, with Romeo and Juliet’s Nurse as a typical character.

Plays in Spain even used the same beautiful style of writing with beautiful language and rhythm. Shakespeare wasn’t the only one o use iambic pentameter. 

So what do you say? Spain Theatre Festival next summer?

Works Referenced

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of Theatre. Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill , 2012. Print.

I Look at Theatre from Both Sides Now

Hey Martine,

First off I would like to congratulate you in your performance last night in Avenue Q. It was such a great show and I was very impressed with your portrayal of Gary Coleman. I’ll admit, I wondered how your performance would be, thinking you are perhaps more of a theatre intellectual than a performer. I was, however, delighted by how well you were able to balance the scholar with the actor. It was a silly and committed performance, which is just as it should be.

Why do I bring this up now? Definitely not to butter you up, (although that’d be fine) but because it reminds me of another theatre intellectual whose skills in the profession were not just limited to desk work: William Shakespeare. In our book, Living Theatre: History of Theatre, we read of Shakespeare’s range of skill. Since he had so much experience as an actor, he understood all the different elements of the theatre, and not just the spoken word.  This vast range of knowledge may have contributed to his shows’ characteristics of lifelike characters and very sensible technical elements. One of the great things about his plays is how “doable” they are; they can be put on with either the largest or smallest budget. All things fantastical in his works can be done elaborately, with smoke and mirrors and a fly system, or simply with a little face make up and perhaps a cloak. The only way Shakespeare would have been able to have such foresight while planning his plays would have been for him to have had sufficient insight into the working ways of the theatre.

It seems clear that studying the scholarly side of theatre perhaps can help an actor enhance their performance, and in turn, studying, understanding, and practicing the literal and performance elements of theatre can help scholars better grasp the art. Lessons like these are good reminders to me to get excited about lecture-based theatre classes rather than just my favorite hands-on classes.

Works Referenced

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of Theatre. Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill , 2012. p. 163-164. Print.

We interrupt this program…

Hey! Sorry to interrupt this concert, but since I’ve already got you all here, this is the perfect time to talk to you all about the concept of decorum in neoclassic theatre! Rock on!

What is decorum? A neoclassic thought that meant that every character had to act a certain way based on “who” they were (age, gender, social class, career… whatnot). I’m sure you individualistic freethinkers think this is a bunch of bogus. But, frankly, look  around. What do you see? A bunch of “unique” people who dress and act just like you. In our age where popular trends reign supreme, we could easily type you out by style. You’re all punk/rebel/maybe-even-hipster-but-would-never-admit-it. No one wants to be stereotyped, but if we were producing a play and wanted to represent you, we have a pretty good idea of how to portray you.  You would dress a little edgy (band t-shirts under bright colored flannel with skinny jeans and Vans), act moody, resent your parents for making you the messed up person you are, and walk with your hands in your pockets and your shoulders hunched. Your dialogue, when not consumed with angst, would mainly consist of witty jabs at the expense of those around you and impressive and irrelevant pop culture references. Sound about right?

Now, don’t be offended, this isn’t all you are, of course you can’t fit all the intricacies and depth of any person into a quick and stereotypical judgement like this, but for the sake of a play it is helpful to introduce a character in this way. When a young adult walks in dressed like the typical “rocker” we feel like we know the basics of who he/she is, and this familiarity helps us delve further into the character in the short time allotted to a play than spending the first act establishing a personality and background. Think of it not as a stereotype, but a head start on getting to know a character.

Those neoclassicists may have been on to something, don’t you think? Now that you’re a little more educated (and a lot more annoyed), sit back and enjoy the rest of your concert!

Works Referenced

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of Theatre. Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill , 2012. p 152. Print.

Italian Renaissance Stars

Hey guys,

I know what you’re thinking: “Italian Renaissance Theatre? What do I care?”  Actually, you probably weren’t thinking that at all, but I’m sure it was something sassy and apathetic to that effect. That is if you were actually paying enough attention to read the blog title (I know facebook is more interesting, just bear with me).

The truth is, theatre as it was in early history is completely relatable to you if you look a little deeper. Between 1550-1750 there was one reigning form of entertainment: Commedia dell’arte. It was the most fun, the most popular and the most exciting thing for audiences. What could that be for us? Cinema I’d say. Film. Movies, T.V. Think about it, everyone loves it, talks about it, anticipates it. We all gossip about the best companies and actors. It was the same for those Italians who lived so long ago.

During the peak of commedia dell‘arte there were a few popular companies: I Fidelli, I Confidenti, and I Accessi (think Warner Bros, Disney, MGM, 20th Century Fox, Universal).  But the most popular of all was I Gelosi.

What Made I Gelosi so much the favorite troupe? Mostly the talent of it’s actors. It had two main stars: Francesco and Isabella Andreini. They were enormously talented and the time’s hottest celebrity couple. Francesabella was it. After a lifetime of entertaining the people, Isabella sealed their public interest with a tragic death after the miscarriage of her child. I can imagine hoards of italian preteens running through the streets, looking for all the details of the tragic and doomed romance of their idols. The only difference is “People Magazine” was harder to come by back then. Her funeral was a huge city event, with everyone paying their respects. After the tragedy, Francesco quit performing and their children took to the stage in their place.

You may not enjoy the works of commedia dell’arte now in your contemporary world, but if you can appreciate that what they did was new and fresh and important for its time, you can begin to appreciate theatre during the Italian Renaissance.  The common people were just as interested in their fabulous stars and their lives on and off stage as we are with our Bella and Edward obsessions. Now that’s a fun thought.

Works Referenced

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of Theatre. Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill , 2012. 138-139. Print.

For the Ultra-Conservative Feminist in All of Us

Attention, everyone!

I know, I know, why would you want to take two minutes to listen to some girl speak when you could go back to happily eating your panda express?  I’ll tell you why: what I’m going to say is important.  Well… if you’re a religious feminist who needs a pep talk.

We hear so much about women’s oppression and how few learned to even read or write “back in the day”, and that always breaks my heart.  Well, I was reading in my Theatre History textbook today and read of an inspiration! Her name was Hrosvitha.  She was a part time nun and a part time author living in a German abbey devoted to higher learning. In a time when women were lucky to be a wife with a home, Hrosvitha mastered Latin and wrote whatever she wanted: plays, poems, biographies and even histories. She studied and was influenced by classical Roman works. She was very enlightened. Doesn’t sound half as medieval as you would expect, huh?

Hrosvitha wrote far before the time of women authors and for that she must be lauded.  An interesting thing that should be noted about her is that, although she was clearly a feminist, learning and working and creating in her day, she still had very conservative values. I suppose that’s to be expected with a nun… She was fascinated by classical Roman works, but didn’t like the loose and wild subject matters. To make her work appropriate for all audiences, she wrote in a sort of classical Roman style, but selected her own more clean plots.  And what could have been more clean than Christian stories?  She wrote with excellent style, taste, and even added comedy to the tales of virgins and reformed sinners and conversions and the like. How very charming of her.

In all seriousness I respect Hrosvitha for a myriad of reasons. Obviously for her rocking feminist ways and her success in a challenging environment, but also for being able to stick to her guns and stand up for what she believed in. I’m sure we’ve all felt that in the world of academia, being religious is generally looked down on as being dimwitted, ignorant, or even narrow minded. It’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re concerned about subject matter.  Since I understand the situation she must have been in, I will gladly tip my hat to this bible-loving feminist mind of the medieval period.

I’ll stop talking now, but leave you with this thought: stick to who you are. As long as your work is good, the rest doesn’t matter.

Works Referenced

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of Theatre. Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill , 2012. Print.

How Excellence in the Arts Can Get Your Education Funded

Dear valued alumni,

I know you get these all the time… I realize you have more pressing and exciting things to do with your hard earned money to send annual donations to your Alma mater, but before you toss this prepaid, pre-addressed envelope in your trash bin, hear me out.

You of all people know the value of a good education in the arts. We need our kind, all those right brained, starving artists to have a degree to back their passion and their talent. We need the arts to continue, but for the arts to continue we need an educated group of artists in each generation, and somehow, we need to find the funds to support the next generation of free thinkers.

The practice of gifting an education to promising talents has been around for years. Way back in Japan in the fourteenth century we can see the tale of how a young artist changed his world thanks to the fellowship he earned for his promise.  Zeami Motokiyo was the son of an actor and playwright, Kan’ami, who wrote a play, Sotoba Komachi, which was seen by a wealthy, and generous man with a ravenous interest in the arts, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (remind you of anyone?).

Yoshimitsu was so intrigued by the work of Kan’ami, he funded the education of his son, Zeami, providing him with a court education.  All because he believed in the arts and the importance and power they have. He spent his own money to ensure the quality and growth of the art the next generation was pursuing.

You may be asking yourselves, “What a sacrifice. Could it have been worth it?”.  I can’t speak for Yoshimitsu as he’s been dead a few good centuries, but I can only imagine his pride and satisfaction as I look back on Zeami Motokiyo’s illustrious career. He’s credited as the main contributor to an entire art style, “Noh”.  He was the head of a theatre troupe, a director, an actor, a playwright, and ,perhaps most importantly, a theorist. He left behind many writings explaining and defining the art of Noh.  Pretty good investment, wouldn’t you say?

Am I saying your generous donations to our College of Fine Arts will produce the new “Noh”? No. Well, not necessarily…. but who’s to say? How can we know what could be “Noh” if we keep telling these kids no.  So why don’t take the risk and give these kids a try?

I thank you in advance for your generous contribution.

Kirsten Jade Allen

 

Works Referenced

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of Theatre. Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill , 2012. Print.

Theatregoers Then and Now

Greetings trendy, affluent, most likely on the right side of liberal readers! Since you’re reading this post, I would assume this is either your night off from your many season ticket holding obligations or your cozy sunday morning. As you enjoy your twenty-first century cup of tea, I’d like to take you back a few dozen centuries to the theatrical entertainment of those who lived in Ancient Rome.

Just like now, not all theatre was high brow, production value, moral of the story, two hour spectacles. Some entertainment simply exists to entertain.  In our society we have street performers, circuses, dancers, acrobats… etc.  Though this may not be the scripted “theatre” we know and love, these theatrical acs of entertainment fall in the same category and have been there to occupy the fancy of audience members for centuries, even when organized theatre wasn’t around as an option.

Popular entertainment, nontraditional performance based shows available to the masses, has been around in all eras.  In Medieval Europe there were traveling tropes of mimes, acrobats and dancers; in Elizabethan England there were  shows baiting large animals such as bears for audiences; in the United States starting in the late 1800’s, there were circuses and vaudeville theaters.

It can be difficult to imagine the merit in such simple entertainments, and wonder how they could be theatre or how they could last so long, but truly, not much has changed.  I think we may find some similarities between some of our “guilty pleasure” entertainments and Rome’s.  In Ancient Rome, there were races (chariot of course, no NASCAR, but still…),  animal  shows (think zoos, animal planet, sea world), I’m not quite sure we have anything to match the horror of Gladiator vs. Lion shows, but I feel we share some of the desire to see humans win or fail horribly (American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance…etc.),  historic battle reenactments (depending on how close you are to your roots, you may relate to watching a similar thing on a large field with your uncle and cousins in colonial costumes) and so on.  See? Popular entertainment is a huge facet of the social and artistic world as we know it.

I’m not asking you to toss your tickets to tonight’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, but simply to appreciate the simpler form of art as you see it. Next time you pass that street contortionist, drop a dollar in his jar. You know… for old time’s sake.

Kirsten Jade Allen

Information as found in Living Theatre: A History of Theatre, 6th Edition

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of Theatre. Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill , 2012. Print.