Monday, March 09, 2009

In with the Old.

Community theatres tend not to do many shows that are hot off the presses as it were. A mixture of perennial hits, (especially musicals), and easy to obtain and comfortable straight shows are the norm for most of them most of the time. This can be a problem, in my opinion, but so can the opposite problem...not doing enough older scripts.

Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that theatres do not do enough older scripts that are lesser known. When it comes to plays over 100 years old, Shakespeare, Moliere, and once in a while a few of the Greek tragedies seem to be the limit. Yet those are done with considerable regularity in spite of their age because of their over all popularity today. Their fame transcends there age.

But what of shows whose age has sort of left them in the dust or theatrical oblivion? What about shows that were written 100-200 years ago about which most of us know nothing, because they have not been performed since? Either because they were never popular, or perhaps that their popularity was very much a product of the time they were written.

It would do theatres as well as actors, good to explore such plays. Theatres benefit because to do so is both original, and free, (such plays being in the public domain by this time.) The benefits gleaned for the actor should be obvious...exposure to the unfamiliar.

There is no such thing for the actor as exposure to too many different types of plays and scripts. The classics are classics for a reason, and exist as a genre until themselves. But a New England Drama released in 1843 in the height of the transcendentalist movement? An passion play from the turn of the 19th century? Plays written in such time periods and designed to reflect such periods' themes certainly would have a different feel in words, staging and plot than a lot of their more universal, timeless brethren, but would have something to teach us.

One of my own favorite monologue pieces which I have used more than once, (much to the confused chagrin of my one time acting professor) is an opening monologue from a play called Andre by William Dunlap, that was published and first performed in 1798. Believed to be the first American based tragedy, it was not popular in it's own time, and even the notoriety it gained decades after the fact remains deeply forgotten in what is the past to us. It is of vital scholarly importance, but few theatre people know of it. Which is a shame. I would try out for it if a community theatre had the temerity to buck convention and stage it.

Why? Because it is so different, so old, so forgotten, yet so clearly not Shakespearean or Greek. (Though it is a tragedy.)

Digging up such forgotten ancient scripts and getting directors willing to direct them, let alone actors willing to perform in them is certainly a challenge. But the actor should be about challenge, and I challenge theatres to look into some of these older, less popular texts.

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