As I write this it has not been decided who will be the next President of the United States.
It has been a long campaign season…well, it’s been a long year in many ways.
Theater is such a wonderful way to escape my everyday problems. I’m sad that the lessons from theater and entertainment aren’t available to us right now. But I find myself thinking about it anyway.
Politics and Theater? It all makes me think about Julius Caesar. (Yes. I’m that much of a theater geek….Oh, you thought I was talking about history?? Well, hang on.) It seems there was a recent production that styled their Caesar after a recent President. It began making political waves. Is this a shock? No. Theater has always been political. In fact, almost every play engages with the politics of its time in some way.
Here are a few political plays and musicals to put on your watch list.
1. Mary Stuart (1800) by Friedrich Schiller I love Elizabethan history. I am so thankful that we live in a time that you don’t get your head cut off just for being on the wrong side of an argument! No one understood better than Schiller the devious ways of politics. At first glance one could be fooled that this is simply a romantic tragedy about two warring queens, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. The most famous scene; however, shows Elizabeth beset by contradictory arguments about Mary’s fate. Should she be beheaded? Should she be forgiven and banished or should she live under the threat of…well…the axe?
2. The Crucible (1953) by Arthur Miller Did you know that Miller’s historical drama about the Salem witch trials of 1692 was inspired by Senator Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee and its persecution of suspected communists? Like most plays, the deep meanings are not the ones simple to find. Set in 1692, inspired by events of 1938, and yet the plot of this play can resonate with us today. It is about a community plagued by guilt, suspicion and fear. What is truth?
3. Richard III by William Shakespeare I did just mention Julius Caesar, but if you want a Shakespeare play that really makes you think of dirty politics try this one. Shakespeare’s Richard is most likely more of a despicable tyrant than the historical Richard was, but the story of his rise to power is very much the story of a dangerous, charismatic man seizing power from people who refuse to take him seriously.
4. 1776 by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone. The show is based on the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, telling a story of the efforts of John Adams to persuade his colleagues to vote for American independence and to sign the document.
5. Of Thee I Sing by George and Ira Gershwin This musical lampoons American politics; the story concerns John P. Wintergreen, who runs for President of the United States on the “love” platform. When he falls in love with the sensible Mary Turner instead of Diana Devereaux, the beautiful pageant winner selected for him, he gets into political hot water.
Politics. Not something I love or enjoy. I don’t think it brings out the best in anyone. Sadly, I don’t think we can escape politics. Perhaps in this moment you think that the election is over and we don’t have to deal with ads or debates or news media twisting the facts and that may be true in that arena. However, politics exists in every area of our lives. We deal with dishonesty, corruption, lies, slander, backbiting, climbing to get to the top and much more in our workplace, with friends and sadly even the church. So, what do we do?
1) Laugh long and often. Even at yourself.
2) Remember the words to the old chorus: “This world is not my home I’m just a passin’ through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” Keep your eyes on the prize.
3) Hold yourself to a higher standard. Remember, we are all sinners. Worship our God not men.
4) God will hold you fast. Rest in that.
5) Watch plays and musicals. Trust me.
Have you watched a political play that I’ve forgotten? What do you think of the ones I’ve listed here?
Until next time! This is just me talking to you….From the wings.
There once was a girl. This girl was afraid of everything. She had recurring nightmares that were so vivid and horrible that she would sit up in her bed at night and be afraid to close her eyes. Her parents didn’t allow her to watch anything frightening because her imagination was so great that any suggestion of horror would torment her for days.
This same girl would hide in the shadows. She secretly wanted to be involved, be popular, try out for teams but the fear of failure was too great. Although she would rehearse at home she refused to let anyone know the secret desires of her heart.
Then, her aunt took her to see her first play. This same girl realized that in acting she didn’t have to show people who she really was. She could gather the strengths that she needed to audition or volunteer to get involved. She reasoned with herself that if she was rejected, people weren’t reacting to her– they were rejecting the “character” she was presenting to be.
I’m not exactly sure how old I was when I put words into how I realized that no one really knew who I really was. In fact, I once teased that I was going to write a book about my life called, “The Me Nobody Knows.” I’ll never forget the look on my friend’s face when I verbalized that. I know she thought she knew me, but she only knew the “Reba” I let the world see.
I think that revelation doesn’t shock too many people any longer because I continue to tell people how insecure I used to be…and how insecure I am.
Why do I feel the need to tell people those facts about me?
I think there are a lot of people in the world just like me. I never knew it when I was younger. But life teaches you that most people aren’t exactly who or what they seem. I think even if you have the skills and confidence I didn’t….you might still need to learn a little from the artists that make up theater.
Theater changed my life.
Theater helped me gain confidence. Theater taught me life skills. Theater gave me some of the closest friends I have.
God used theater in my life to create a theater for Him. I boldly try to reclaim this art form for His glory.
(Those of you who have been reading my blog know what I’m going to say next,)
And then enter COVID.
I’m a little worried that in a world that the arts education is continually being eliminated from the educational system that theater/speech will once again be in danger of disappearing.
I recently learned of an organization. The Educational Theater Association. From what I understand this organization has spent the last months putting together a guide for schools that will help make sure theater in schools doesn’t disappear. They have thought through a whole host of questions and concerns and have pages to guide the teachers and schools. I am so thankful that the arts have people who advocate for them. If this is something you feel strongly about. Please share this organization with a teacher or school so that they can download the free guide. If you’d like to contact me I can give you a link for the guide.
This year thousands of students were unable to complete a normal year of studies. Many were unable to perform in productions in which they had spent many hours of preparation time.Experience lost.
And now what happens? Rumors are abounding about what happens to our students this fall. Will theater be back? Hopefully, people will lead the charge and express the importance of theater in the lives of their students.
I don’t know where I would be without it.
About ten years ago Overshadowed started taking interns for the summer months. A couple of months ago, I thought that this year we would have to say no to that help. I am happy to report, we have THREE this year. Three interns that we will learn from, but also, we will be able to have an impact on. Three interns I will never forget! How do I know this? Because I’ve had so many of you leave a special place in my heart.
Let the summer theater programs begin!!
Next week. Music Man thoughts!
I’d love to know what you think. Please leave me your comments or thoughts and don’t forget to share
I’m not so sure why this week’s blog was so difficult to write. I’d love to say that it’s because I wasn’t a history scholar and perhaps I’m afraid of saying something wrong.
I’m afraid it runs much deeper than that.
I have told you before. I was raised to be deeply patriotic. My dad fought in three wars and spent twenty-five years in the military. He loved America. He saw the faults, but loved this country and by his example, I did too. I feel privileged to be raised an American. I’m proud of my dad. I’m proud that he would risk his life to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy. Have you ever thought that there are reasons people put their lives in danger to try to make their way into our country and escape their own? I think we have it pretty great.
And yet….we are a divided country right now. We are torn politically. We are torn because of the virus. And we are torn on other levels as well.
It isn’t the first time we’ve been divided. When the Continental Congress declared their independence from the British during the reign of King George the III not everyone was in favor of that decision, but TOGETHER we fought for freedom. Our country has been torn during the Civil War and again during the Vietnam War when people avoided the draft and escaped to Canada to avoid fighting for something they didn’t believe in.
For years, people disdained a person who avoided the draft in such a manner. Now, it makes no difference to most people.
For a time we loved the freedoms that this country fought for and in turn granted all those who were citizens.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
What are the freedoms we are granted?
Freedom of speech
Freedom of religion
Freedom of the press
Freedom to assemble peaceably
Freedom to petition the Government.
With these freedoms we become the freest people in the world.
When do you get those freedoms? Do you have to work for them?Or be of legal age?No. You are granted these freedoms the day you are born. It doesn’t matter politically what side of the fight you are on: Republican or Democrat, you can use the freedoms you are given to push for change or oppose it.
Wow. You. Me. We. have the freedom to push for change. And I am so glad we all do.
Did you know that, John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, wrote that the 4th of July should “be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty!
So you might be thinking….what does freedom and what people have fought for have to do with Hamilton?
During this time of celebration by many Americans, the Broadway musical Hamilton is making it’s screen debut and I think we can learn a lot from the production as well as the man.
Timing is everything.
Could this musical be a source of healing? Is there a way to look at the moral vision of the show, and in some way, come together as a county? Instead of allowing our differences to destroy us? Could there be an intersection between faith, arts and change?
I have to admit, I didn’t know much about the musical when I first had the opportunity to see Hamilton! I thought it was full of rap music and had a story line that I wasn’t super crazy about, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see something that was such a work of art. Hamilton won 11 Tony Award in 2016, including best musical. I now know it is a work of genius.
What can we learn from this musical?
Hamilton is the retelling of a time in our history, but brilliantly deals with the social issues that we face today. Hamilton was an immigrant from the Caribbean and a major theme of this musical is his fight for dignity and equality.
The story also centers on grace, forgiveness, death and redemption. Themes that a person of faith rests on, but ones that we all should remember. Those themes should give us hope and show us what life might look like. Those themes open the door for us to have discussions about faith and hope and how we all need God’s Grace in our lives.
The musical includes scripture that impacts as it tells the story of the past. Did you know that the song, “One Last Time” contains a phrase from the scripture that George Washington used in his personal writings throughout his life? Historically, the most famous use was at a time he used it to express hope that Jews would flourish in America.
“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants–while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
4. Did you know that Hamilton, like many of our founding fathers, practiced a real faith in God.? He even wrote hymns and poetry when he was a boy. Here is a few lines from one of his most quoted:
“Hark! Hark! A voice from yonder sky, Methinks I hear my Saviour cry, Come gentle spirit come away, Come to thy Lord without delay.”
5. Hamilton tells the story about a man who was ambitious. It has been said that the poorest man has the chance to be a millionaire in America and indeed, “Hamilton didn’t “Throw Away His Shot.” By the time America was formed, Hamilton was the second most powerful man in the United States.
6. Hamilton teaches forgiveness. His wife, Eliza struggles with forgiving Alexander for an affair and the chorus sings, “Forgiveness, Can you imagine?” Can we, in our country, forgive each other? Can we take a moment to listen and understand the pain and forgive? Can we follow Christ’s example? 70 x 7?
7. Hamilton broke the “rules.” It is full of hip-hop, rap, poetry and it is the first musical to cast people of color to play characters who historically were not. Hip-hop and rap has traditionally been known as music of rebellion. To place it in a musical about a revolution is brilliant and eye-opening. Then the original casting hopefully opens our eyes to a new way of thinking about things and new possibilities. There is so much to learn from that.
Are we listening?
8. It is a story of heartbreak and redemption. Hamilton receives the honors of war and yet becomes a political outcast. He loses a son in a duel and ultimately dies the same way. And yet, his wife redeems all the hurt. In the final scene Eliza sings about her new calling to start the first private orphanage in New York. She sings:
” In their eyes I see you, Alexander. I see you every time.”
And she looks up to heaven and smiles.
When we celebrate July 4th this year I am going to be thankful for my country, my freedoms, my friends (both the ones who share my beliefs and the ones who don’t).
I’m also going to be thankful for God’s work of redemption. At times, the world seems full of sadness and suffering. May we each have the courage to speak out and spread the hope the God gives. May we have courage to be a catalyst for change not just a bystander. I am going to be thankful for my freedom of speech (even though sometimes I’m afraid to take the chance to express myself.)
I am also thankful for musical theater!
I hope you can enjoy your families, friends and FREEDOM! Happy 4th of July!
Please let me know your thoughts! Has the time of unrest in our country sadden you? Or do you see it as a wonderful catalyst for change and discussion?
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I was in sixth grade when I saw my first stage production. It was a high school production, but that didn’t make it any less remarkable for me. I loved the story, actors, music and dancing. In fact, I loved the whole evening. I think I’m a little unusual in that I seriously enjoy EVERYTHING. I love the energy of the audience as they anticipate the show and seeing their friends or family on stage. I love combing over the playbill and reading the bios and even the advertisements! Then, the orchestra begins to tune their instruments! For most people that isn’t remarkable, but I love listening as they play a note, adjust the string or reed, and play again and again until the whole orchestra can play a note with a unified sound. The curtain goes up and the magic continues. Until intermission….
a short interval between the acts of a play or parts of a public performance, usually a period of approximately 10 or 15 minutes, allowing the performers and audience a rest.
a period during which action temporarily ceases; an interval between periods of action or activity:
Legend has it that in the late Middle Ages early renaissance (in theatrical terms at least think 16th 17th centuries ), theatre began to move from performances outdoors to indoor facilities. Theaters used candles to light the house and the stage. Intermissions began because the candles needed to be changed. While the candles were being changed, vendors would come and sell to the audience members to keep them from leaving the theatre.
Most productions that are longer than 90 minutes will have an intermission (even though the need for changing candles has long gone.) And indeed, it does provide a wonderful time for the audience to stretch their legs, go to the restrooms and browse the gift area or buy concessions. I’m used to the way that process works around this area, but imagine my surprise when I attended New York theaters years ago and they ushered us outdoors and to the restaurant close by to use the restroom because there simply was not time for the whole audience to use the facilities that were located inside that theater! It was a new world!
Does the intermission still have value in today’s world? Here are a few reasons I think it is necessary.
An intermission builds anticipation for what is to come. It gives the audience a chance to stretch, move around, get a drink. And socialize. Which I believe is a very real part of the theater experience.
An intermission allows the actors time to rest or change costumes or grab a much needed drink of water.
An intermission allows the crew time to change the set for the next act.
I try to not have a bottom line that is all about money, but let’s be real…concession sales are a part of a theater’s budget so in that regard, an intermission is very necessary.
In productions that have employed musicians, union rules need to be followed, so that in most cases breaks need to be provided for the orchestra members.
That’s intermission in a world that ceased to exist weeks ago. And we don’t know when or if it will ever return. Thus, we have entered an intermission of sorts. I was listening to a short message from Bob Bixby (friend and Pastor in California. You can reach him at bobbixby.wordpress.com) when this first started and he mentioned that the Lord had given us a Sabbath. I have been fascinated by that thought since then. Did you know that one definition of the word Sabbath is intermission?? An interlude, a pause before we move into our next phase of work.
What do we know about the Sabbath?
God included it in the Ten Commandments. It wasn’t a suggestion. It was a commandment.
God wants us to receive something from this time of rest each week.
It should be a time of resting from our work. It is a day that gives us a chance to renew ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually.
This is a time that we can spend quality time with God, but also have fellowship with your church family and others that we love. If we set this day apart we can create close relationships with others that can be spiritually rewarding as we encourage each other and grow together.
This is a time we can stop and think about the blessings that God has given us. Sad to say that sometimes we get so busy with our day to day lives that the act of thankfulness is a trite thought in our prayers, but with a day set aside to reflect on the mercies of God, we can cultivate a attitude that should carry us through the week.
This is a time set apart to rejoice and worship.
The day. The command. It is a gift.
I’m not going to lie. This time of shelter in place has been difficult for me. The theater being shut down has been painful for me. But could it be that in some ways it is a gift from God? A Sabbath? A pause. A time to reflect and regroup and thank God for His mercies which are new each morning.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
I didn’t want to slow down, but I have loved what you have taught me during this time. Help me to be thankful for each day. Help me to learn from this time of intermission. Bring the rest for my soul. Thank you for the blessings that you have brought during this time and the mercy you have shown. Thank you, for understanding my burden. Thank you for the gift of Sabbath.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject! And as always, I’d love it if you would take the time to share this blog!
I had the chance to meet “Shrek” and loved it when he said I was just a big kid! Don’t judge!
Shrek is the perfect example of social distancing. When he is misunderstood, he decides it is better to live alone and in the swamp. Of course, he meets Donkey and Fiona and well..who can resist a good love story reminding us that we are better with people. The other favorite about this musical is
that it ends with a Monkee’s song, Daydream Believer. I loved the group and this is one of my favorite songs so getting to enjoy that song at the end of this musical makes it a real treat.
2. Les Misérables. I think I can speak confidently for broken-hearted girls everywhere that Eponine is their representative. She has a horrible home life and has really had to take care of herself most of her life. Then she meets, Marius, basically someone that could be her prince charming. Is it love at first sight? Nope, not for this tragic creature. Instead she helpshim communicate with the person he has fallen in love with. She sings the song that many a girl has belted out in their rooms through tears. “On my Own.”
On my own Pretending he’s beside me All alone I walk with him till morning Without him I feel his arms around me And when I lose my way I close my eyes And he has found me
Yep. That’s what we are all doing right now. All alone. Maybe the lesson we learn from her is that we can sing our way through any circumstance in life!
3. Rapunzel. This sweet character was locked away in a tower for most of her life. I mean, you all remember how long her hair was when her prince climbed up to rescue her, right? (And you think you need a hair cut…) One of the main things I love about Rapunzel is that she made good use of her time. She painted and baked and well…everything. What new skill are you learning as you are confined?
Oh, by the way. This story also teaches us about hope. Rapunzel’s parents never gave up hope that she was going to return. In a way, it was the beauty of the lanterns and their optimism that brought her home. So, let’s not give up hope that we are going to conquer this evil virus sooner rather than later!
4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I might as well do all my tower characters together! Quasimodo. This tragic character was born deformed. Because of his appearance he was condemned to the cathedral’s tower by the caretaker. Quasimodo yearned to experience the outside world and be among the people. (Sound familiar?) I love the lesson of this show….who the monster is and who the man is depends on your point of view.
5. The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom lurks around hiding and isolating himself. Let’s face it, he was wearing a mask before it was cool! In fact, this beautiful operetta sings an entire song about masks!
Masquerade! Paper faces on parade
Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you
Masquerade! Every face a different shade
Masquerade! Look around, there’s another mask behind you
Yep, masks, masks everywhere I look. In all seriousness, one of the lessons of Phantom is that regardless of circumstances we have a choice on how we live our lives. Such a good reminder right now.
6. Beauty and the Beast. Yep. you guessed it. Another character that is isolated alone, hiding away from the world as we know it. But the Beast is lucky, he has Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts to keep him company. Then, as fate would have it Belle enters his life. What lesson can we learn? We actually learn the lesson from Belle. The fairy tale, happily-ever-after love story might not look like one right away, but don’t give up ! That love story might be waiting for you when you least expect it!
7. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Adam and his brothers lived outside of their town. They had no manners and knew little about love. They thought they could force their seclusion on others and kidnapped the girls in town that had captured their hearts and forced an avalanche so that they could keep them all winter. Lucky for the girls, Milly, Adam’s wife, forced the guys to stay in the barn and kept the couples apart. Lesson? The premise is bad, but thankfully it is seen as a farce and teaches the lesson that love changes the heart of another. We can also learn that it isn’t good to be alone–people make bad decisions! (Seems like we keep being reminded of that lesson)
8. Wicked. Elphaba is green and misunderstood. So….she doesn’t really wear a mask….but again…she is GREEN so I think that counts. But don’t count her out. You won’t find her in the middle of the crowd and that’s ok. There are so many great things to learn from this musical. You don’t always have to do the “popular” thing. Sometimes the other choice is better. Yourfuture is unlimited. Lastly, sometimes you just have to dance through life.
9. The Diary of Anne Frank. I know I’ve mentioned her quite a bit lately, but there is so much to learn from her. As you know, her family went into hiding on July 6, 1942. They continued to live in hiding until they were arrested on August 4, 1944. In spite of Anne’s living conditions, she was aware that her family had more than others. What can we learn? The importance of perspective. We can also learn to look for the silver lining instead of thinking about how horrible our situation is. In hiding she wrote,
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go…somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God.”
“Those who have courage and faith shall never perish in misery.”
10. The Trip to Bountiful. I have saved my favorite for last. When the stay at home orders were issued we were in the middle of our production of Bountiful. I had the honor of portraying Carrie Watts and I’m pretty sure I’ll never have the chance of playing another character that is as wonderful as she is. Why Carrie? She says:
“That was what was killing me! To be locked up in those two rooms! I bet I’ll live to be 100 now that I can get outside again!
I think we can all understand how Carrie was feeling! One other thing we can learn from Carrie is that no one can take away our song. We might not be able to get out and do all the things we want to or be with the people we want to be with, but you can keep singing. And I can’t wait to sing again with all of you.
Keep singing, my friends!
I’d love to hear what you think. Are there other characters I should have included? Please share this blog and follow so you don’t miss a post!
I am so thrilled to introduce Nathan to all of you. Some of you may remember Nathan from a few year’s ago when we had the honor of having him at Overshadowed just for a few weeks before he returned home to get married. He made a lasting impression on us in just that short amount of time and I can’t wait for you to get to know his heart in this blog! Enjoy!
When Reba asked me if I would be a guest author on her blog, I must admit I felt both honored and nervous—happy to reconnect with Overshadowed, but also a tad afraid of the topic. She asked me a seemingly simple question: “What is a dramaturg?”
But the truth is there’s no official, textbook definition. The role can vary from show to show, company to company. Not to mention dramaturgs are often overlooked in America. But one thing is for sure—dramaturgs are the chameleons of the theatre. When involved, they enrich every single aspect of a production, even though their specific influence may be hard to define. In short, they are Content and Context experts. Their main responsibility? To ask 3 questions about every play they work on. And to answer them as thoroughly and collaboratively as possible.
Question 1: Why Then?
“How much is a guinea worth?” “Where did swing music come from?” “What were French fashions in 1834?” “What does this Shakespearean monologue mean, anyway? Can I cut it?” “Why was it like that back Then?”
Dramaturgs are tasked with answering countless historical questions for designers, directors, and actors alike. Mercifully, they usually join a production before any other member of the team (unless a playwright is involved). This gives them time to gather a wealth of information to share before any acting, design, and directorial choices are made. These findings are gathered into one large document called the Actor’s Packet. Typically, production team members get a copy during preliminary meetings, and actors receive it on the first night of rehearsal.Now you may be thinking: “Don’t the cast and crew do their own research?” And the answer is yes, they do (or should!). But by doing a lot of research ahead of time, dramaturgs help save them hours of work. But even more importantly is how dramaturgs offer insight into questions that aren’t quite so easily answered with a Google search:
“What’s with the scrims in The Glass Menagerie?” “Why is Arthur Miller obsessed with Greek theatre structure?” “How did religion shape Shakespeare’s plays and characters?”
These are questions of culture—specifically the aesthetics of the playwrights themselves and the societies they lived in. And unfortunately too many productions skip right on by these.
“But why is that a problem?” you may ask. Well, think of it this way: Plays, like any art form, are created in response to something—personal, political, societal, you name it. And so if we divorce ourselves from the original context of the play—and the reason it was written—we not only fail to understand the message itself, but fail to know how to translate it to a modern-day world.
Dramaturgs help us make this connection. Which leads me to Question 2.
Question 2: Why Now?
A dramaturg’s job doesn’t end with the Actor’s Packet. He’s not just handing out a bunch of historical facts and aesthetic recommendations–then walking away hoping it’s all done properly.
No—the dramaturg is an active on-going presence throughout the rehearsal process. Serving as the confidant to the director, the dramaturg keeps this question in sight at all times:
“Why this play Now?”
In other words, “What is its significance today?”
Or—if it’s a new play— “Why is it worth the risk to support this playwright and produce it?”
Dramaturgs keep the team focused on answering these “Now” questions in several ways.
First of all, they champion the play itself. If it’s an established script, they make sure that its original context isn’t lost—or worse, misrepresented for the sake of “innovation”—during the production’s process. To do this, they facilitate meaningful discussion and interpretation of the play, including modern-day applications.
If it’s a new play, dramaturgs work with the playwright directly—consulting them on potential adjustments, maintaining the script’s integrity, and ensuring the play’s present-day message isn’t muddled. Because if it is, then the theatre has lost the reason they took the risk to produce it!
Second, by focusing on “Why this play now?”, the dramaturg reminds the team of why they chose to do this play in the first place. For instance, let’s say the director shared a brilliant vision for the play at the table read. A couple weeks in, the dramaturg asks:
“Is this vision being realized?” “Are acting and design choices in line with these directorial goals? With the text itself?” “Based on how rehearsals are going, will the audience receive the intended message?”
Dramaturgs help directors keep the original vision intact, and they serve as sounding boards for the thousands of decisions that come directors’ ways. While directors may feel they’re making one isolated choice after another, dramaturgs are there to point out how each choice influences the overall vision—and ultimately, how the audience will experience the play. Which leads into Question 3.
Question 3: Why Here?
This question is critical.
Why is this theatre doing this play in this community?
And unfortunately many theatres don’t even think to ask it.
But a dramaturg has it on their radar long before a script is selected in the first place. In fact, theatres with resident dramaturgs often task them with sourcing play options for their seasons. And there are two crucial reasons why.
First, we know any established theatre ought to have a clear and distinct identity and mission. We should be able to say, “Oh yeah, that theatre is known for [family/edgy/comedy/etc.]shows.” And so when a theatre company is looking to pull together a cohesive season, dramaturgs go to work to find plays that fit the theatre’s niche, and even specific themes if desired. A lot of times this is how new playwrights are discovered—dramaturgs are dear friends of new works!
But it’s not enough to know why the theatre is doing the play.
Secondly, a dramaturg helps determine why a specific communityneeds this play. Let’s say you’re a comedy-oriented theatre and you want to do a production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park—a funny play about a newlywed couple in New York City. But there’s a catch: you’re located in southern Mississippi surrounded by an older community of blue collar workers. The play may fit your niche, but it doesn’t serve your audience demographic.
This audience-centered thinking is the bread and butter of the dramaturg. If a play’s appeal doesn’t extend beyond the theatre company itself—if it’s not a gift to the larger community, speaking to them in specific ways—then the dramaturg should rightfully ask:
“Why are we doing it at all?”
But—when a play is chosen that does meet the theatre’s niche as well as its surrounding community, dramaturgs are in their happy place. In fact, this is personally my favorite aspect of dramaturgy and why I am so passionate about it. Because the dramaturg now gets to create meaning that extends beyond the production itself.
Through presentations to cast and crew, dramaturgs get to express why this play matters to the outside world—the one right outside their door! And by creating lobby displays, program notes, and talkback sessions, dramaturgs show audiences that this production speaks to their lives and experiences right now, right here.
It’s a gift. And it’s personal.
When you choose a play for a specific audience, a specific community, you’re saying:
“I see you. I hear you. I know what you value—what speaks to your soul.”
And sometimes even:
“I know this one will be hard for you; but I think you need it—it’ll help you grow.”
Dramaturgs search for plays that serve their audience. And I kind of think that looks like Jesus.
So to sum up a post longer than I intended, dramaturgs are a vital part of the theatre. Because their three questions—why then? why now? why here?—all answer one ultimate question:
Why it matters.
If we fail to answer that, then we’ve failed to give a gift. And if we fail to give a gift, then we’ve failed to make art.
May we as Christians always be gift-givers.
Ghost Light: An Introductory Handbook for Dramaturgy by Michael Mark Chemers
You can follow Nathan @nathan_pittack or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Last weekend was supposed to be the closing weekend for “The Trip to Bountiful.” Our season is designed that after that “March” play– we have a break in our season that allows us to beginning planning for next season and gear up for our busiest time of year–the summer.
Like I said, that’s what was supposed to happen. Instead, two weeks ago theaters all across the United States begin to shut down, suspend productions, and in some cases close them all together, in reaction to the pandemic that is attacking our country. We didn’t want to close–but we had too. We had to for the safety and health of our country, families, patrons….everyone.
This was an incredlbly difficult decision. Why? Because we still do not know how long and what disasters will have occurred when the rainbow comes out at the end. I wish I had dollar for every time I’ve said, “If I only knew…” my whole life. Well, if I only knew….then I could make the decisions a artistic director needs to make. Decisions about how to create theater when the world is falling apart.
First of all, you might be wondering exactly what is a artistic director?
Artistic director: the person with overall responsibility for the selection and interpretation of the works performed by a theater, ballet, or opera company.
In my case, I also have the responsibility to create budgets and vision for the paths we are going to take during the year. This is the time of year I start to make those decisions for the next season.
Panic sets in.
How in the world am I supposed to do that if I don’t even know if I will be able to open the doors of our theater before the end of the summer? My thoughts spin in my head like a tornado. “Do I postpone auditions? Are we going to be able to hold camps? Should I rearrange the season? Should I change shows that we finish the year with? Should I contact the royalty companies now or later? How is this going to hurt us fanancially? Can we survive at all? ” And probably other thoughts as well.
Where do I even start?
Keep thinking and keep creating. The second you stop then the very artist inside of you will stop as well. Even if you don’t know when you’ll perform again or what tomorrow will bring. Just keep creating. How? Maybe it will look different because your safe theater isn’t open, but find another one! Write. or take a lesson, or give one. or read on-line to entertain others. Overshadowed has chosen to open it’s vaults and let others see past shows. Whatever you do, please just do it!
2. Keep Planning. This is a difficult one for me. I feel like the calendar is moving all over the place and I can’t make a decision or decide anything because my target keeps moving. But, I must keep planning. If I don’t have “the next step” ready then we will be behind on everything for the rest of the year.
3. Think about finances. This is a bottom line necessity all the time. God has always been very gracious and has blessed Overshadowed in so many ways. Honestly, this might be the toughest battle we face. Because we don’t know when we are going to re-open or if we will have to permanently cancel part of our season then we don’t know if we will have to reimburse part of the money we have collected up front. In this time of crisis that would be devastating. So, decisions have to be made to keep us going? How do you keep a theater company going when the theater world has stopped? We make decisions based on the future. Do we add something to our fall season? Do we spend less money now? Do we take this time “off” to make sure we inform others of services we have to offer? Classes? Rentals? Original scripts? My mind is searching for ways to help our communities but have services to offer others in the future. I’d like to think, that we will come out of this better because we’ve had time to think differently….time will tell. The one thing I know. This was God’s company when we started. It’s God’s company now. It’ll be God’s company tomorrow.
4. How do we get the name of our company out to people who would be interested? And in this case, how will we KEEP our name in the minds of our current patrons. Entertainment and theaters are going to take a hit along with everyone else in this crisis. We aren’t sure how long it’s going to last, but I want to be there when it’s all over. Small decisions have deep impacts on people. There is a science to marketing that I am not good at, but I do understand that people need to hear the name of your company over and over before it starts to sound familiar and even more times before it becomes something they are willing to check out. So, we are still sending out our weekly updates. We are also offering the link to one of our shows each week. (If you aren’t on our mailing list contact me and I’ll send you the link to one of these shows.) We are also trying to creatively market the people of Overshadowed and past memories. I really appreciate, Jessica Means, who is heading up all of that! She is so creative and is doing such a fabulous job!
5. Keep your tribe around you. Folks, we need each other. We might be bunkered down alone, but that doesn’t mean we should hibernate. FaceTime, text, call, email, zoom….there are many ways to reach out. Keep talking. It will help us stay motivated and maybe even appreciated and sane in the end!
My thoughts have gone back to the stories I heard about WWII and the times families would sit around and listen to the stories on the radio. Do you know what that teaches me? That when times are tough sometimes we need to shut out the world and give voice to hope and laughter and joy and see theater that becomes a means of comfort. We need breaks in times of sorrow and sadness. We need a connection between communities.
I’m thankful for theater. I hope it never dies.
One last thought that I have been clinging to. I was reminded of an old gospel hymn. “I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please take time to share this if you know someone it might encourage. Thank you!
When I last wrote I had no idea what our world was going to look like just a few short weeks later. I wish I could go back to a time when our biggest worries were what we were going to have to eat for dinner or which movie we were going to see. But time wasn’t on our side this time and instead our world is in complete chaos. If you aren’t worried about if you are going to get the virus, you are probably worried about your job, or how you are going to survive for the next eight weeks without going stir-crazy.
I wish I could say that I’m not worried, but that would not be true. I know that God holds us in His hands, but my reasoning and anxiety constantly argue with me and I have to continue to purposefully focus on God. In some strange way though, that’s a good thing, I think. We are supposed to keep our hearts and minds on Him and maybe…maybe this is necessary for us to humble ourselves and pray…pray for God to heal our land. Not just from sickness, but from lack of faith and from having other gods that we put before Him. Whatever the case, pray, my friends, and know that our God is faithful and His promises are true. Search for Him and you will find Him.
When we discussed Judy I talked about the real life Judy Garland and the troubled life she lead. I ached for Judy, but then I started to think of others.
Robin Williams, Margot Kidder, Marilyn Monroe, Freddie Prinze, Mark Salling, Kate Spade, Whitney Houston, Prince, Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Believe me, that is barely a drop in the bucket for the names you will find if you start googling this subject of famous people who have chosen sucicide or fought addictions or depression.
Is the rate of suffering from depression, anxiety or substance abuse higher if you are famous?
I have no idea. I haven’t studied this and in no way do I claim to be an expert.
However, these things I do know:
We are more aware what happens to a person of influence because the news and social media keep us informed. Honestly, that might be part of why people who stumble across stardom have anxiety. They can never get away from us…the people who have the need to know every detail about them. The constant reporting can make it seem like the rate is higher than instances in the rest of the world.
Stars and entertainers usually have the means to afford substance abuse more than the average person. We all know that money brings the ability to have many things–this particular ability can ruin and destroy even the innocent. These things are addicting, friends: they can ruin your life, your family, your pocketbook, your future. I am so thankful that I have never had that temptation.
Really talented performers are able to tap into their emotions at a deeper level than most people. That is part of what makes their portrayal so brilliant! They are able to emphasize and pull reality from things they learn about or even have experienced themselves.
They have to be”on” all the time. High stress environment and a demanding schedule seems to be a risk factor for the rest of the population. What about stardom? Pressure. Pressure. Pressure to perform at high levels added to the fact that they can never get away from it. Reporters, photographers, fans. How can they ever just let down, relax and enjoy life? There are many that are just searching for a way to escape! Think of what we enjoy by being able to enjoy places like Disney World? Liz Taylor among others solved that by having to rent Disney Land to herself after the park closed!
I don’t think I realized that the cost of Fame is that it’s open season on every moment of your life. –Julia Roberts
Let’s say that all the factors above don’t really cause addiction or depression. I’m pretty sure they at least make recovery harder.
Why do I say all of this?
I’m afraid. I see more and more people who have their eyes on the “prize of stardom.” I’m just not so sure that it’s the prize we sometimes think it is.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you! Please take a moment to like or share or follow me!
When I decided to start a community theater I will confess I had no idea what I was doing. Don’t get me wrong. I had been directing plays/musicals for over twenty years. However, that did nothing to prepare me for the difference in attitude in both audience and cast, as well as all the work that went into marketing and so many other areas. I naively thought that the people who came to see my church and high school productions would be excited about a Christian theater and would follow me to that venture. I quickly learned that Overshadowed Theatrical Productions had no name recognition. Quickly, my number one focus went to marketing. I began to feel stress for my new “product.” My desire never changed though. I wanted to provide professional type theater in an unconventional non professional way.
My goals, desires, standards never changed, but I soon discovered that the rest of the world either has the same problems I do or they are not bothered by things that I wish I didn’t have to tolerate.
The question is this? If you apply rules, standards, restrictions to a production experience–does it take the fun out of it for the performer?
Fun: it’s a word frequently thrown about in non-professional theatre circles. Fun. When someone asks why you are willing to put so much time into a production the number one reason is: “It is a lot of fun.”
And believe me, I agree. Putting a show together and performing it to a live audience is an experience like no other. Pure magic.
However, there is so much more than fun to the process. I don’t want to scare anyone off, but theater is hard work, especially to anyone that is going to devote their life to this field.
I will write more about this in a separate blog, but we amateur theatre artists always struggle to be recognized. It takes commitment to stay up late rehearsing and memorizing lines and creating character development. Most people have full-time jobs that they still work hard at, but of course, we as an audience don’t see that part of it.
I actually love that theater is hard work. I love that when you pour yourself into a character you are exhausted at the end of a show. It is a rewarding experience to pour yourself into a process like that. Is it hard work? Maybe. Time-consuming for sure.
Maybe it boils down to the reason why you participate in theater. Some do it for fun, some do it professionally, and some do it because they believe in the show or purpose. Isn’t it true that most of us will put up with almost anything if it is for something we love?
I love that theater brings people together. We make new friends and create something that lives. The danger is when some people treat the show as a hobby or something they are just doing for “fun.” Tensions sometimes arise when people have to work hard to cover for what some of the cast isn’t bringing. t is wonderful that community theatre brings together people with various levels of experience, but it is hurtful to the whole production when cast/crew treat the show as something secondary which does not deserve their full attention.
Please remember this: being paid or volunteering should not affect the quality of the work you provide. I think when the work suffers it is because we see ourselves as inferior when we don’t get paid, or don’t get the reviews or awards. Do not settle, but always push yourself to achieve more than you thought possible. Mediocre? Never! Let’s shoot for the top!
When producing a show, I think about the audience. What do I want them to enjoy, learn, feel? If I think about the cast instead, then we become a group of divas and honestly, become a little selfish. Sometimes we have to put personal thoughts aside to put on the best show possible.
Is theater fun? Yes! Exciting, creative, rewarding and fun! Theatre is all about creativity, exploration, and play. It is exciting, enthralling, and, yes, very fun. It is also hard work and commitment. Let’s stick together and make each show better than the last. Someday we might get the recognition, but until then, the show must go on!
I’d love to hear your comments or thoughts! Please take the time to follow my blog or to share it with others!
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to take the time to talk about some of my favorite love stories in theatre and why I like them so much. I’ll start with number 10 and move up the list so that your anticipation can grow!
10. On almost everyone’s favorite love story list (stage, screen or book) is Romeo and Juliet. I mean, Shakespeare created such a great model that when you speak of couples it’s almost like it is a coined phrase. If you don’t love someone like Romeo and Juliet loved then perhaps you aren’t in love? It is such a tragic story and teaches so many lessons of honesty, loyalty, feuding, that it is impossible not to be touched in some way by this wonderful story.
9. Cyrano de Bergerac. Also, a beautiful tragedy. I feel frustrated that Roxanne can’t see that it is really Cyrano that is writing the beautiful poetry she loves. I love that Cyrano wants Roxanne to be happy and loves her so much that he makes Christian into the man he thinks Roxanne can love. By the time Cyrano allows Roxanne to discover that Cyrano is the man she truly loves – he has been mortally wounded. Another love story gone horribly wrong.
8. Ragtime. Oh, how I wish this musical didn’t have such strong language. I believe the story could be told just as well without it, but sadly permission to change the language is not given so I won’t be producing this show anytime in the near future. This show is an epic love story. It is a love story with America (the good and the bad) and music and the passionate love of dreaming! It contains one of my favorite musical songs, “On the Wheels of a Dream.” If you haven’t heard it–trust me, find it and listen to it. It is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. (especially if you know what happens after they sing this song.)
7. The Phantom of the Opera. This is simply one of the best love stories of all time. This story is set in the 1870’s Paris Opera House. The Phantom is a musical genius who prowls around with a mask hiding the disfigured half of his face. Even though he has been imprisoned by his disfigurement he feels love and even compassion for Christine. When she falls in love with Raoul, the Phantom’s heart is broken and he turns into a jealous, furious “monster.” It is a wonderful story of how love can conquer all or destroy. The music is haunting and beautiful. It is a timeless genius masterpiece.
6. Les Miserables. Unrequited Love. The song “On My Own” makes me feel all the feels, after all, haven’t most of us had unreciprocated love sometime in our lives? Eponine and Marius are the couple that never was and how we ache for Eponine all the way to her death. The love stories play out on many levels throughout this celebration of human spirit. There is a reason it might very well be the world’s most popular musical.
5. Cinderella.I grew up watching the 1965 TV remake of this wonderful musical that was written for television. To me, there was no better Cinderella than Lesley Ann Warren. She was pretty, but not so pretty that it put my hopes of one day being a Cinderella out of reach. I loved “In my Own Little Corner” and I felt like I could also be “whatever I wanted to be” and, like Cinderella, it was ok to dream. Cinderella has a magical love. It is a fairy tale that makes most of us want the knight on a white horse-love at first sight kind of love. And honestly, that’s kind of breathtaking. (As a side-note I don’t like the modern version. For more on that read my review here: https://fromthewings.org/2018/05/01/rodgers-hammersteins-cinderella-changing-the-fairy-tale/)
4. West Side Story. Romeo and Juliet revisited. The tragic tale of two gangs that cannot mix with each other until Tony and Maria meet each other and fall madly in love. They defy the wishes of all their families and friends and commit to love each other for life. Oh, the power of love–it makes you believe that all things are possible. I won’t give away the ending, but since I said Romeo and Juliet you might get a hint.
3. Steel Magnolias. This story revolves around Truvy’s Beauty Shop. Everyone in the town gets their hair done there. When your hair is being dyed and cut you can bet some very strong friendships are being formed. This story is a love story between friends, and mothers and daughters. These bonds are powerful, life-sustaining and unexplainable. I wouldn’t give up the experience of playing Ouiser for anything. Life-altering.
2. Wicked. Most people might say that this is the story of Fiero and Elphaba. I believe it’s the story of a powerful friendship between Glinda and Elphaba. These two strong women meet and are instantly at odds because the pretty blonde just doesn’t understand the green-skinned girl. Yet, they each open their hearts and allow the lessons of the prejudice of the world change them “For Good. ” It is very rare that there are two female lead parts that are so brilliantly written for the stage. This one makes me long to be able to sing like Elphaba who does happen to sing my theme song. (Don’t we all want to Defy Gravity?)
1.Showboat. Anyone who knows me would have to know that this is my number one pick. It is the show that made me fall in love with theatre. I have seen it numerous times and have read the book and play just as many.
the love story that the show people have with performing
the love that Bill has for Julie that he would sacrifice his future by joining Julie’s race
I love that Magnolia loves Gaylord so much that she fights for him even when he is ruining her life
I love the way Old Man River soars and the love affair the people on the river have for the Mississippi.
My all time favorite musical song, “Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine” (in fact I sing it to my granddaughter-with a few words changed) comes from this beautiful love story.
If you haven’t seen some of these make sure you search them out. If you have, I’d love to hear what you think! Please take a moment to comment, share and like!