The Glory of the Theatre: a participatory sport

There is something wonderful about the dramatic arts at all levels, primarily I think because the students are actively engaged. Of course good readers can do that anyway, but here the interpretation of a character ends up a blend between the person saying the lines and the author of the lines.

I directed over 40 plays in high school, including 5 musical plays for which I had written “the book” and a few of the songs. Some were for an “assembly program.” Some two hour long musicals. For these we charged two dollars a ticket. It was not a wealthy community, but we took in enough to pay for all the various needs of amateur theatre. And as you might have guessed we didn’t pay royalties to ourselves. Instead we set up a scholarship fund and distributed it once a year after getting recommendations from other departments engaged with something to do with the arts. Most often we had a dancing chorus and some of the best singers as well. I experimented with multiple stages, played with a NASA Laser to project an image, backlights, smoke and mist creating tools, and the audio improvements which were just beginning (they’re better now.) Only one of all the actors I worked with made it to Broadway in a principal role, but several got a taste of it in college, off Broadway, in Denver, backstage and in church.

In the classroom I worked somewhat differently. I learned to follow an order wherein I would cast the parts, describe the characters if the author didn’t, read the intro for setting the scene including time and place and sometimes what was going on in the professional theatre in that period of history — and I would read all stage directions but not the author’s hints as to how he wanted the lines performed. That was up to the readers. I would usually play a curious small role, like a baby crying for his ma or a grave digger. The underlying idea was to subtly convince the “cast” to do more than read — to prep what they were going to read in order to make the jokes or enlarge the power of a dramatic scene. Come out, come out whoever you are! When it worked, the class became alive. And to do so the characters had to be a blend of what was written and who was “playing” it.

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