Let’s talk about theatre.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I got involved in theatre at a young age. My initial exposure to the performing arts was at the age of 6 when I got the neighborhood kids together and we made a revisionist version of Bambi using my dad’s super8 camera. This was back in the early 70s and it kinda makes me wonder what Monki could do if she were so inclined. I mean she’s 5 now, so a year away and she already knows YouTube and loves doing things with the slow-motion effect on my iPhone so the joys of putting together a piece of film will be a completely foreign thing. Hell, she’s not even interested in going to the cinema because she can’t pause or rewind or anything else. Sure, that may change as she gets older, but it just points out how different her world is from where mine was at her age.
Anyway, this is about live theatre, which I first experienced in 4th grade when I was cast in the Christmas play at Pat Diskin Elementary*. From there, I hosted the end-of year school talent show (do they even do those anymore?) and I auditioned for the Rainbow Company Children’s Theatre.
It was Rainbow that solidified my love of live performances. Not only was I involved on stage as a performer, but I was also taught the process of making a play, of creating art and understanding what went into the whole of the production. I understood that while the actors may take the bows and get the accolades, there were also a number of people behind the scenes without whom it was impossible for any of it to actually happen**.
With Rainbow, not only were we involved in our own productions, but we were also taken to see other, professional shows, mostly the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. These were the days before Vegas had such amazing venues as The Smith Center and whatever live theatre we did have was limited to community productions (more on those in a minute), concerts masquerading as theatre (Ipi Tombi, anyone?), and bedroom farces (Shows like Too Many for the Bed or some such starring such Hollywood luminaries as Bob Denver).
Eventually, I left Rainbow and thought I’d finished with theatre. I was wrong. I ended up becoming the assistant tech director of the Las Vegas Little Theatre, where my education of what could happen in live theatre was really advanced. For starters, in that first location in a converted storefront (they’ve since moved to a beautiful facility), we had a structural support pole in the middle of the stage and the spot operator had to literally lay down in a crawl space to move the spotlight. I once had to rewire our homemade light board during an intermission to make sure it worked for the second act. What a great way to learn practical knowledge.
As high school finished up, I was involved in drama club and our class trip came and included tickets to see Dreamgirls at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. By this point, I knew I wanted to be involved in the performing arts as a career and so my first major in university was film (at the University of Utah) and then, when I returned to Las Vegas, I changed my major to theatre, and this is where I really started learning about the theory of the art form itself.
With Rainbow Company, the knowledge was practical. We put on shows, practiced performing and learned about set construction by constructing sets. All of which is incredibly worthwhile (and put into practice at Little Theatre) but it wasn’t until I got to UNLV’s theatre program that I started really reading plays and getting a background in the history and theory behind what I’d been learning to do with my hands.
It was here I really read Shakespeare for the first time and actually understood it! I was introduced to Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead., which, yes, to answer the initial question, is one of my favorite plays.
But for me, “favorite play” isn’t really a thing. Sure, there are plays I like more than others, but I just love the idea of live theatre and going to see a play, sitting in the audience as the lights go down and watching the action as it happens, to me, is transcendent. There’s an energy there I don’t think you can find in any other art forms. I have a friend who can’t go to a play. They can’t separate the live performer from the performance itself. They love movies, but watching someone on stage, for them, just screams of artifice. I’m the opposite. I can totally buy in and will willingly suspend my disbelief in order to enjoy the show, be it full blown, over the top musical or small, intimate, black box drama.
I like it so much that I’ve gone to London with regularity just to see shows (special shout out to Lin, who is intimately involved in the London theatre scene and always hooks me up in addition to randomly sending me play scripts to keep me current) and my friend Jennifer and I booked an entire vacation back in 2013 around the fact she got tickets to see Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston in Macbeth at the Manchester Festival***.
So really, it’s not so much about the play itself, since there’s so much more that goes into it. It’s not like a movie where once it’s on film it’s locked like that forever. A play can change from night to night or production to production. I’ve seen productions of Twelve Angry Men played both deadly serious and as a comedy. When I first moved to LA in 1987, one of my first jobs was doing reviews for the LA Theatre and Entertainment Review, where my friend Rex and I tried to write a comic strip (which I would put a picture of, except it’s in a storage shed in Vegas) where the punchline is a director wanting to do a church production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in the nude.
That’s what theatre is all about, the danger and uncertainty and so all I can say is that, as for favorites, well, “the play’s the thing.”
* To be fair, my first experience that I can recall would really be in 3rd grade when I wrote and performed an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter but that was just me trying out something, not an actual performance.
** This was only reinforced by my folks who would always stay and watch the credits of a movie out of respect for the people who made the film. This was long before the days of 10-minute credit rolls and expected (I’m looking at you Marvel) post-credit scenes. There were a few, certainly, like the outtakes during the Cannonball Run credits or the now oft parodied “It’s over. Go home.” line from the very end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but in general, when it was over it was over.