Sunday, October 19, 2008

Theatre Snob or "Now For Something Completely Different"

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.

That's all.


A said...

Your quote
"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."

I am sure alot of people probably agree with you that it was not the best show or maybe even downright aweful...but alot of people believe in being respectful and cordial. It is the socially acceptable thing to do.

I am a huge movie and music snob but when I go to a friends show, even if it was really really bad I am most likely going to say "great job"

It is just the socially acceptable thing to do. Think about what the alternative would be. Me telling my friend how horrible of a musician he is. If I did that I probably wouldn't have a friend and the next time I made some kind of mistake he would probably take the opportunity to criticize me harshly. Some people are looking for constructive criticism and others aren't. Even those who do ask for criticism would preferably like to receive it in a nice way.

It is a delicate balance we have to walk.

A said...

BTW what kind of movies do you enjoy? Ever go to film festivals?

Gay LDS Actor said...

I have no problem being respectful and cordial. You can still politely applaud the show when it's over or say nice things to your friends, but to me a standing ovation sends the message that something was outstanding, and if something is terrible, I think the message one sends by giving a standing O is "That piece of crap we just saw was marvelous!" I refuse to do it. I never give into the peer pressure of a standing O. Unless I think a show deserves it, I don't stand even if everyone around me is standing. I want my standing O to be worth something. But then, as I've stated, I am a snob.

I'm always honest with my friends when I see them perform. Some friends, like the one I saw the other night, want to hear the absolute truth and respect my criticisms. In those cases, too, I generally don't share my honest opinions unless I feel my friends want an honest assessment or if they directly ask me for my opinion or criticism. Other friends don't want the absolute truth, but I never lie and say "Great job" if I think they sucked. I'll say something honest like, "It looks like you were having a lot of fun up there" or "That was quite a performance" or "Boy, that was a really cool set.!" I try to find something good and focus on that or I don't comment on the show or performance at all, but I won't lie. I just can't seem to bring myself to do so, socially acceptable or not.

I do understand where you're coming from, though. Of course nobody likes being criticized, and even when I criticize my friends shows or performances (if I feel they want that), I'm never mean about it (although there are some friends, like the one the other night, who are more than happy to get on the bandwagon of bashing the show they're in because they know it's a turd. But, sure, there is a balance to walk.

I don't generally go to film festivals, not because I don't like films (which I do), but because I don't like crowds, and I also enjoy watching movies alone for the most part (or with people who I know will be quiet).

I enjoy a lot of different kinds of film. I love good classics, science fiction, comedies (especially dark comedies), dramas, epics, scary movies (but not slasher pics), documentaries, and I'm very into good independent films. I like a lot of things. I don't like toilet humor. I like wit. I love stuff with good acting and deep, three-dimensional characters. I thought I didn't like westerns, but I've seen a few recently that I quite enjoyed. I like surprises and stuff that's a bit unorthodox or off-kilter. I like a good historical or biographical film. I don't care for animé. I don't like a lot of violence, although I've seen some very good movies with violent themes.

Examples of some movies I like (in no particular order and certainly only a smattering of my tastes) include: Waiting for Guffman, A Trip to Bountiful, The Champ, JFK, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, 9 to 5, Tootsie, 12 Angry Men, Amelie, Bad Day at Black Rock, Gosford Park, Capricorn One, Memento, Chocolat, Sunset Boulevard, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Inherit the Wind, Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, Life Is Beautiful, You Can Count On Me, The Empire Strikes Back, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, A Place in the Sun, Moulin Rouge, The Poseidon Adventure, It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Princess Bride, Sideways, Sliding Doors, Young Frankenstein, and Titanic. There are many, many more. These are just ones that I thought of right off hand. I like different movies for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes I like the concept or lighting or acting or story or art direction or cinematography or characters or all of the above and more. I love a lot of things. What about you? What kind of stuff do you like?

A said...

Well I watch a ton of movies. I don't really know how it is that I find time to watch so many but somehow I do. I am a total sucker for the movie theater experience, I love to be surrounded by sound and to get lost in the big movie screen. That might be due to the fact that I have a crappy tv at home.

As for the movie you listed I have seen them all except for Inherit the Wind, Charlie Chaplin's The Kid. I will have to put them on my Netflix queue.

I watch pretty much anything other then horror movies. My favorites tend to be a bit darker.

One of my absolute favorite movies is Mysterious Skin by Greg Araki based on the book by Scott Heim. It is absolutely amazing especially the soundtrack which tends to be very shoegaze. I highly recommend you watch this alone, in a dark with a great soundsystem. But be warned it is extremely disturbing. I cannot emphasis that enough.

I also love Latin/Spanish Films anything by Pedro Almodóvar, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón, or guillermo del toro.

Pedro Almodovar I suggest Bad Education and Volver (I love Penelope Cruz)

Alejandro González Iñárritu did 3 movies that were losely tied together. 21 Grams, Babel and Amores Perros. All amazing movies though alot of people didn't like Babel.

For Alfonso Cuaron I really love Y Tu Mama Tambien and he did one of my favorite post apocalyptic films ever Children Of Men

and Guillermo did Pan's Labrynth

I also love films by Wes Anderson Michel Gondry, Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant, Danny Boyle and anything by Sophia Coppola especially Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette

Recent films that I saw that I thought were alright include
Frozen River
Mister Foe (Jamie Bell is hot)
Mister Lonely (by Harmony Korine who did Gummo)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Science Fiction is my guilty pleasure. I have seen pretty much every science fiction movie ever. I'm a huge geek.

Now I know you don't like Anime but most people who say that have never seen really good Anime.

Here are some movies I recommend
Grave Of The Fireflies
One of the saddest movies ever. It is a huge tear jerker

From the wikipedia about this film
--"Some critics (most notably Roger Ebert) consider it to be one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made. Animation historian Ernest Rister compares the film to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and says, "it is the most profoundly human animated film I've ever seen.""--

On the light hearted side check out the movies by Hayao Miyazaki. His movies have won academy awards and are now distributed by Disney in the US.

Check out Howls Moving Castle
and Spirited Away

Anyways I am sure I am boring you. I just get really excited when talking about movies or music. I love running into others that enjoy movies as much as I do. If you ever have any recommendations please send away.

If you have facebook you should link up

Gay LDS Actor said...

I have a crappy TV as well, so I do like seeing movies in the theater; but I wish I could watch them without distractions like kids, cell phones, talkers, late-comers, etc. My wish is to one day get a big screen TV with surround sound or, even better, a screening room of my own.

I love both Inherit the Wind and The Kid. Check 'em out.

Of the movies you mentioned, I have seen Mysterious Skin, which I quite enjoyed, although you are right that it is a very disturbing movie. I've also seen Bad Education, which I liked, and Babel, which was interesting (I neither loved it nor loathed it); I thought Children of Men was phenomenal; a really awesome film. Y Tu Mama Tambien was not bad, either. Pan's Labrynth was a very unique and interesting film (and I mean that in a good way), although was somewhat disturbing at times. I've also seen Almodóvar's Talk to Her, which I liked, and I am very interested to see All About My Mother. I believe it is on my Netflix queue somewhere. As for the other Latin directors you mentioned, I would be interested in seeing the Hellboy movies and 21 Grams. I'll have to stick Volver and Amores Perros on my list as well. I also enjoyed the Guillermo-produced The Orphanage. I have also seen Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette, both of which I liked.

Of the other directors you mentioned, I only saw the Royal Tenenbaums by Wes Anderson, and didn't enjoy it. His other movies haven't looked appealing to me, although I wouldn't mind seeing Rushmore. Of Gondry's work I've only seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which I enjoyed for its uniqueness, but wasn't as wowed by it as many people were) and Be Kind Rewind (which wasn't as good as I think it could have been). The Coen Brothers are generally hit and miss with me. I very much enjoyed No Country For Old Men, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, and The Hudsucker Proxy, for example; but I didn't like O Brother, Where Art Thou, Raising Arizona, or The Big Lebowski. However, whether I like their movies or not, I give them huge props for daring to be different and inventive. I'm eager to see Gus Van Sant's Milk. I thought Elephant was a very interesting experiment in film. I thought his remake of Psycho (one of my favorite movies) was unnecessary, but interesting. Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, and My Own Private Idaho were good, and I've always wanted to see To Die For. Danny Boyle's made some enjoyable movies, too. I enjoyed Millions. Sunshine was uneven, but absolutely fascinating to watch. I liked 28 Days Later overall. Shallow Grave was also a good dark comedy. I've tried to watch Trainspotting several times because it seems like one of those movies I "ought to love," but I just can't get into it.

Frozen River is something I'm very interested in seeing. It looks good. I'm not familiar with Mister Foe or Mister Lonely (I'll have to check them out). Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day didn't strike my fancy enough to see it. Vicky Cristina Barcelona also didn't look as interesting to me. I do have a bias against Woody Allen however. Most of his stuff I haven't enjoyed (although I quite liked Bullets Over Broadway and Match Point).

I do enjoy science fiction, although I am not a complete geek (well, I am about Star Wars, but that's another story). What are some of your favorite science fiction movies?

Other people have also recommended Spirited Away to me. I had not heard of Grave of the Fireflies or Howls Moving Castle. I'll have to do more research.

Talking about movies rarely bores me. A few movies I've seen in the recent past that I enjoyed: Ghost Town (funny and kind of touching), The Defiant Ones, Death at a Funeral (not a stellar movie, but was the kind of dark comedy I enjoy), The Lives of Others, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Lars and the Real Girl, Eastern Promises, and Under the Same Moon.

I'll try to link up with you on Facebook when I get a chance.

Clint said...

Wow, great thread. I'm a huge movie snob, too (film school will do that to you), though I learned a long time ago, that if I want to enjoy a movie with my friends, I have to hold back a lot of my criticism; it can ruin the movie for them. Apparently people don't like being told that a green screen shot looks totally fake because of the edge enhancement or that the director was being overly indulgent in his cinematography. Go figure... I'm late to the party, but I am jumping in, anyway.

GLDSA, we seem to like a lot of the same movies (and "A" as well) - although I will indulge in a good horror flick (28 Days Later was one of the few truly scary movies I've seen) and Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" is one of my favorite movies.

Love Cuaron. Love Walter Salles even more. He did "Motorcycle Diaries" and his "Central Station" was phenomenal. His "Behind the Sun", moved slowly but was beautiful.

Tried to like Wes Anderson movies, but they never really clicked with me.

Ang Lee rules my world. "Crouching Tiger" is a masterpiece and "Eat Drink Man Woman" is full of subtle greatness. "Sense and Sensibility"...

OK, I'm just going to stop myself now before I get carried away.... :-)

A said...

Motorcycles Diaries was pretty amazing. I love that actor Gael García Bernal.

Danny Boyle literally reinvented zombie flicks with 28 Days Later(even though there are no true zombies in the film). I loved that movie and I find Cillian Murphy to be unbelievably good looking.

I have a love hate relationship with Ang Lee. I can't believe he did the Hulk.

Any upcoming movies anyone excited to see. I am looking forward to seeing Synecdoche NY and Slumdog Millionaire.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks for the comments, Clint and Alex.

Yeah, I, too, try not to overburden friends with my criticisms, but I have a couple of friends who I love to go to movies with because we can still enjoy it but also dissect it and talk about what made it good or bad.

Annie Hall wasn't bad, but I am, overall, not a big Woody Allen fan, although I very much enjoyed Match Point and Bullets Over Broadway. I do love the scene in Annie Hall when they're in line at the movie theater, though.

I didn't see Motorcycle Diaries, Behind the Sun, or Central Station. Perhaps I will have to check them out.

I've enjoyed the Ang Lee movies I've seen (admittedly, I did not see The Hulk).

One of my favorite directors is Billy Wilder. I think I've enjoyed just about everything I've seen of his.

Alex, I think Cillian Murphy has an unusual look, but I, too find him attractive. Gael Garcia Bernal, too. Both are good actors as well, in my opinion.

Interestingly enough, I have not heard of either Synecdoche NY and Slumdog Millionaire.

I'm looking forward to seeing Milk. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist also looks interesting to me. Being a James Bond fan, I'd also like to see Quantum of Solace.

Clint said...

Upcoming Movies: Sunshine Cleaning, Quantum of Solace (really excited about this one), Let the Right One In, Star Trek. I know it is out, but I have yet to see Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist.

I like Danny Boyle's films. Sunshine was disjointed, but I liked it nonetheless. I've forgiven Ang Lee for The long as he never goes near superheroes again. :-)

I've seen Double Indemnity by Wilder which I liked, but a blasphemously don't usually like old movies. The only black and white director that I consistently like is Hitchcock. Rear Window is suspenseful as crap and Anthony Perkins in Psycho is great (Vince Vaughn couldn't even come close).

Gael Garcia Bernal is pretty cool. I want to see Blindness (even though its reviews are "meh") for him and Julianne Moore.

Gay LDS Actor said...

I'm not familiar with Sunshine Cleaning or Let the Right One In (or if I am, I can't recall them).

I agree that Sunshine was disjointed, but I, too, enjoyed it.

I like Double Indemnity quite a bit. I love old movies. It probably comes from the fact that my mom has watched old, black-and-white movies all my life. There are some very good ones out there. Psycho is one of my favorite movies. I liked Rear Window very much as well.

How was Blindness? Just curious.