Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The history of theater in America is hardly awe inspiring. Unlike other cultures that produced great playwrights, our brief flare with O'Neill, followed by Miller and Williams, will probably not resonate through the ages. How can we expect these fine writers to last, when our greatest, O'Neill, is dismissed by critics for his obsolete language. This from pettifoggers who revere Shakespeare, yet don't understand 20 to 30% of his language! Theater is the most accessible of the performing arts, demonstrated by the numbers of Broadway theaters that tract hundreds of thousands annually. Opera, ballet and classical music appeal to limited audiences, and cannot become mainstream without audiences learning enough to comprehend what they are attending. Then they have to develop the requisite taste to appreciate what is not a common core in our texting society.

Despite the dim future of theater as audiences age and new audiences don't emerge to take their place, escalating ticket prices that prevent exposure to disadvantaged populations who could participate someday, if encouraged, more glamorous, hi-tech film, tv, video games, there is still an appeal in live theater that attracts people. Even as the classics fade from the repertory, musical theater still attracts huge audiences. There is no equivalent in less demanding opera or ballet. Musical theater could flourish another ten years, then the cost of production and technical advances in TV will erode the economic base that nourishes dozens of Broadway houses that are not suitable for other applications, except demolishment and replacement with condo-hotels.

Gary Beck

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In retrospect, there were many reasons for my decision to form a classical company. I loved the classics, especially on the grand scale like Hamlet and Agamemnon. Yet the translations of the Greek plays were ponderous, stilted and almost as difficult to read as to produce on the stage. I visualized performances that would thrill the audience with the heightened passion of great tragedy. This was what I wanted to work for. But I knew that theater tragedy, especially with young actors lacking the requisite skills, would not reach audiences that no longer brought a willingness to actively respond to the play. They have been conditioned to sit back, relax and spectate, just the way they go to a movie. Theater is an emotional transaction between actors and audience, mandating participation between both sides. Nevertheless, my ambition was to involve audiences in the passion of the play.

Even while starting this Quixotic quest, part of me knew the chances of attaining my goals were not high. I neglected to bring an appropriate gift to the Oracle of Delphi, and did not perceive unfavorable omens. The irony was I never directed a classic. My experience, in several countries, was invariably social issue drama. I had an inherent prejudice against comedy, considering it crude, vulgar or too clever. So I opted to build the company doing comedy first, so
The pain of early failure would not be an anguish. The thought of inflicting tragedy on the audience with an unprepared company was abhorrent, but somehow making the audience suffer through the learning process of comedy was more tolerable.

I realized I had to master many new skills to do classical comedy, so I decided to recruit a number of small performing groups once we got a theater, including a modern ballet co., a modern dance co., a clown co., a mime co., a recent group of graduates who wanted to do a show together, and some scruffy musicians I named the Dehydrated Band. ( I think they could read and write, but they lacked many cognitive skills. One of them asked why they were the Dehydrated Band and I replied,' you just add water and mix'. I named them as a joke and didn't think it meant anything, but he seemed to get it. Rock musicians and classical musicians come from different planets). The idea of these disparate groups, congealing in one place considering the vast gulf between the sensitive ballerinas and the unwashed musicians, was perhaps a bit perverse, but definitely amusing. I planned to do some writing, directing and choreography with all of them except the band from another planet, whose only redeeming value would be if I could get them to play...What?...for the other groups. This had to be one of the strangest undertakings
In what had so far been my strange life.

Gary Beck