Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Good, The Bad & The Theatre

We held our first rehearsal for the Youth Theatre Experience last Saturday. Thank goodness for Brittney & Richard - they really stepped up to the plate for me, allowing me to attend an SFT staff function at the same time.

Our young actors got to play some theatre games, and wear off a little energy, with Brittney before they sat down with Richard and worked on their script reading and writing skills. Most people don't know there is a real skill to reading scripts - and I think it's one that should be taught/learned as early as possible in an actor's career. Richard Turtle is a published & produced playwright, so I reckoned he would be an excellent teacher of this skill - and I was right! The kids really seemed to enjoy the experience, and so did he.

I can only hope that they took those skills home with them when they read the script for the first time!

Choosing a play to produce that will be acted by kids, for kids, is a very difficult task. You have to think about the people you don't know yet who will be acting out the story. You have to think about the audiences who are expected to come (based on previous experience). You have to think about the stories that you, as a creative & thinking person, want to see told. I must have read a dozen plays for young actors & audiences before latching on to The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon, and even then I had some reservations.

Yes, it's funny. Yes, it moves incredibly fast so it will be fun for the actors to play. But yes, there were - and are - some issues with dated jokes (who in the general public even remembers O.J., never mind a kid who's 11 today?) and some issues with language (which I think Brittney & I cleared up, but will be sure to double check as we rehearse). But there is also the fact that the Brothers Grimm more than lived up to their name - their fairy tales are pretty grim!

We live in a Disney-fied world these days; in fact, the play even pokes fun at The Mouse, as they say. As a society, we have smoothed out the scary parts of old fairy tales and removed the ones that some people can find offensive. We want life to be easier and happier for our children, and we want them to know personal safety and comfort in their everyday lives.

I personally like the scary stories, even without the "happily ever after" endings. And if you know the time in which the Brothers Grimm collected the folk tales and stories that become 'their' stories, you know that talk of enchantresses and devils and witches who tricked children into a dark & forbidding forest was part of the daily life of people who were very uneducated, very superstitious.

What these tales are about - whether in their original version, in the 'smoothed out' version, or even in this farcical version we are presenting - is the story of good and evil. And if it uses slapstick and irony to make the point that good triumphs, evil is vanquished, perhaps that can be considered a way to reach an audience that may not have had a chance to think too much about these things.

As we rehearse our play, while we're having fun, I hope that my discussions with the actors will help them see that these stories we're telling are encouraging strong, good, personal values that I hope everyone can believe in, and not a world in which evil wins, even for a moment. Can you do all that and still get laughs? I think so... if you're open for the experience. We'll see as the weeks unfold.

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