I've spent much of this blog talking about my gay LDS issues. Today it's about theatre.
I am a theatre snob. I freely admit it and do not apologize for it. I like going to see excellent theatre, and anything below my high standards receives criticism. My mom doesn't always like going to shows with me because she thinks I am too critical. Whether I am too critical is up for debate, but I admit I am very critical of any play (or movie) that I see. Frankly, I wish I could just go to a show and enjoy it without the critic in me constantly making mental notes about what I am seeing, and there have been times when I get so lost in a show that the criticism stops. Those ones are the best; but the majority of things I see are scrutinized (and sometimes torn apart) by my inner critic. Mostly it's acting and directing and performance that receive my toughest criticisms because those are my focus. Jonah, for example, criticizes costumes a lot because that is his forté.
The other night a good friend of mine (who is also quite critical about theatre) and I went to see a friend of ours in a show. Neither of us particularly wanted to see the show itself because we both had low expectations, but we really wanted to see our friend perform. True to our suspicions, the show was pretty terrible. Our friend (and actually most of the performers) gave good performances and made the most of some weak material, but the material itself was pretty mediocre. The premise was interesting, but the execution was not, nor were the stakes high enough or the characters deep enough for me to be moved in any meaningful way. At intermission my friend and I proceeded to pick the show apart, and I'm sure if anyone around us heard our conversation they probably thought we were huge theatre snobs. So be it.
I said to my friend that it was typical "bad Mormon theatre," which as a Mormon and a theatre professional I feel I am qualified to say. He replied that it reminded him of a bad BYU Young Ambassador show (is there a good BYU Young Ambassador show? Kidding.). We felt the show came off as disjointed, condescending, and preachy and thought overall that the songs, book, and choreography were uninspired and superficial. When we got together with our friend after the show, she agreed with every assessment we made about the show, and said her director also thought the material was weak and tried to do the best she could with it. I had a feeling our friend knew she was in a bad show because she is a pretty theatre-savvy individual.
The composer of the show came out prior to the Act 1 beginning to tell us that the show had been 22 years (I think) in the making, and when the show was over I thought, "It took you 22 years to come up with this?!" What really annoyed me (as is often the case when I'm seeing theatre in the Beehive State) was that so many people around me were buying into it, and several people gave the thing a standing ovation (but then I find that Utah audiences are often willing to give a dog taking a crap onstage a standing O). It's appalling to me how willing people (both theatre professionals and audiences alike) are to settle for mediocrity.
I'm not saying that all theatre has to be deep or meaningful or socially relevant nor do I hold community theatre up to the same standard I hold professional theatre. What I do want is to be entertained or moved or see some issue from another perspective in a polished, professional, and interesting or clever way. The musical Mamma Mia, for example, is not high art or anything other than a big ball of fluff; but I saw a touring company give a terrific performance of it that was very entertaining and well done. On the other hand, I just saw a socially relevent play at Salt Lake Acting Company called The Overwhelming which I found to be extremely well written, well acted, and well directed, and I left feeling I had seen a great piece of theatre. Pioneer Theatre Company just did a production of My Fair Lady that I found to be extremely well done. I saw a community theatre production of Caroline or Change in the recent past that was more invigorating and interesting than some of the professional theatre I've seen. So I don't think I am unreasonable in my request.
I do find, however, that so many audiences here in Utah (and probably elsewhere) have this attitude that if somebody's putting their heart into something and doing a passable job of presenting something mediocre or even downright awful that we need to celebrate it and applaud it as if it's the Second Coming or something. I disagree.
I worked for several years at a theater that thrived on mediocrity and sloppiness. We did half-assed shows to sell-out crowds, and our audiences acted like we'd given them top-notch entertainment worthy of a brilliant production of Shakespeare or Sondheim. I was constantly frustrated by our troupe's unwillingness to strive for perfection and polish and even more frustrated by our audiences' willingness to accept it. I can't tell you how many times I said to myself, "Imagine how these people would respond if the show was actually any good." Now that isn't to say we didn't do some good stuff there, but we also did some things that I just thought were mediocre and even terrible. One of the reasons I chose to move on from that theater (because it was a well-paying job) was that I no longer felt challenged or particularly proud of what I was doing. Nor is that to say that I don't still take jobs for money rather than the art (call me a hypocrite). I'm just saying that I wish we as a society (both as theatre professionals and audiences) would try to raise the bar in what we deem acceptable as good entertainment and/or thought-provoking theatre. I think we should demand more of ourselves.
Now if you think I'm being too critical of theatre, imagine how high that beam of criticism is focused on myself as a performer. I do not claim to be the greatest actor or singer (and certainly not dancer), but I sure strive to be, and I am constantly dissecting and picking my own performances apart to see what can be improved and polished. I'm not asking perfection of anybody; I'm just asking that we strive for perfeaction and not settle for mediocrity in the theatre.