Friday, June 17, 2011

p.s.--conzept and kids

there really are themes that emerge at different times in one's life.  i learned that early in my tarot-reading days, when i worked at psychic fairs and in a given day got several customers who didn't know each other, and no matter how much i shuffled the decks, several cards would come out for almost everyone.  that still happens when i read for my students in the castle in nederland.

opera is as regular a part of my life as i can make it, and conzept [or 'regie' or, as some of my american opera fans call it, 'eurotrash'] always pisses me. it pisses me equally in theatre.   but i don't always rant about it.  this past two weeks seem to offer more occasions than usual for such a rant.

catching up on magazines i've put aside for months, i read today an article in a college alumni mag about how successful emerson's theatre program has been for many of its graduates. cool--very cool.  but it seems to be a major theme for the graduates who are now teachers and directors that, at least for kids, a classical play must be set in another time.  one director/teacher talks of setting romeo and juliet in the early 1990s, 'the pun vs. the grunge scene." another did twelfth night using all beatles music. "we turned it into a british rowhouse," he explains.

so i put aside the magazine and thought about it.  maybe, i tried to grudgingly to see it their way.  maybe it was a good way to get kids into shakespeare--the '90s one used skateboards, surely familiar to any high school student today.  the version of 'much ado' i wrote about in an earlier post was also centered on kids as both actors and audience.  in a production of 'twelfth night' i saw one summer on the boston common, the setting was New York's Central Park in the 1960's. okay, maybe that wasn't as terrible as my friend and i thought, fleeing during the intermission.

but there are a couple of problem with that idea, even on its own terms.  to a kid in high school or middle school in the second decade of the 21st century, even the 1990s are ancient history.  and the 1960s?  i was a teenager in the 1960s, and we thought World War II was as historic as World War I.  kids today know they are influenced by '60s music, but the culture itself? they weren't born until 25 years later.  [the Central Park idea still baffles me. i spent time in central park over many years, and never ran into deer hunters there. the play was on the Boston Common; one might have thought.....oh well...]  to be really 'relevant,' wouldn't you set it in the present?

but here's the other thing.  kids like the 'olden days'; they like figures of fantasy.  disney company makes fortunes on 'the little mermaid' and 'pocahuntis';  fairy tales take place in a highly stylized middle ages. look at popular tv shows for kids:  teletubbies. barney the purple dinosaur.  that ghastly spongebob creature.  kids have imagination.  if they have trouble understanding shakespeare it's because the language is so strange to them, not the costumes.  it's great to get them into shakespeare, teach them how to speak and hear and get that astounding language.  skateboards and beatles tunes can't do that. good teaching can.

so no, there's no need to dumb down great theatre, or great opera. not for kids, and not, i hope, for adults.

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