Posts Tagged ‘language

24
Sep
12

The Fantasticks

The Fantasticks

Noosa Arts Theatre

September 20th – October 6th 2012

 

“Teaching the world about youthful love…”

 

Away from the flashy expense and soullessness of the blockbuster musicals (that we love!), is the world’s longest running musical. I’m fascinated by this show’s history and intrigued by the fact that no one I spoke to about The Fantasticks, when Noosa Arts Theatre announced its inclusion in their 2012 season, knew much – if anything – about this beautiful little show.

So by all means, skip straight to my review, below, or bear with me while I share a brief history, from fantasticksonbroadway.com on the inception and long-term success of The Fantasticks.

In the early 1950’s Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones were students at the University of Texas. During their senior year in 1955, they became so enchanted with the works of French playwright, Edmond Rostand, which they read and re-read his three most famous plays and then began to search for others. From Rostand’s biography, Schmidt and Jones learned of another play – the first ever written by Rostand when he was 26 years old in 1894. Finding no copies anywhere of the mentioned play, they sent to a rare-book dealer in Paris, who unearthed a copy in French. Their one single impulse was to turn this tender little tale into a modern musical.

After graduation, Schmidt and Jones descended upon New York and began writing material for little musical reviews and nightclub entertainers. They didn’t get around to fulfilling their college dream until 1959, when The Fantasticks had a tryout at Barnard College to an enthusiastic audience. A few months later the show was produced in New York and the rest is history.

The Fantasticks tells a simple tale of “a boy, girl, two fathers and a wall.” Using theatrical techniques from many parts of the world and many periods in history, it urges the audience to use their imagination, to follow the narrator, El Gallo, as he creates for us a world of moonlight and magic, and later of honky-tonk carnivals and burning disillusion.

The Fantasticks, as LIFE magazine once said, is “a sophisticated story about innocence.”

The Review…

The Fantasticks premiered at The Sullivan Theatre on May 3rd 1960 and ran for 17 162 performances before closing in January 2002. The current revival at The Snapple Theatre (renamed the Jerry Orbach Theatre) is directed by the show’s playwright and lyricist, Tom Jones and stars pop sensation, Aaron Carter, in the role of Matt.

Ian Mackellar played Matt in a production some years ago and the show has always held a special place in his heart. (The Fantasticks seems to have this effect on those involved in it!). This time Mackellar directs – very precisely – and plays Luisa’s father. Mackellar stepped into this role just a few weeks ago, to team up with John Woodlock, who plays Matt’s father. Together these gentlemen very nearly steal the show. Their final duet particularly, is one to look forward to.

John Woodlock & Ian Mackellar The Fantasticks

As Director, Mackellar has done a stellar job. He imbues The Fantasticks with all the love he has for this show and for musical theatre and storytelling. The storytelling is key. We are asked at the outset to indulge the players and put our imaginations to good use. It sounds like a big call and it is. If it were not for the ingeniously (deceptively) simple staging and the deft efficiency of Carly Partridge as The Mute, it would be an almost impossible ask. Partridge magically procures props and costumes from out of nowhere at the precise moment each is needed. She establishes her quiet authority and maintains an air of all-knowing, all-seeing puppet master (but who is pulling her strings?). She is omnipresent and she knows the show back to front and inside out; very little would happen without her.

Sam Coward is a wonderful El Gallo. And I’m not even biased. In fact, I’m probably his biggest critic. In this role, Coward is in fine voice and takes seriously his responsibility to invoke our imaginations from the outset. He finds just the right amount of sensitivity and swashbuckling, mischievous charm to woo and slightly terrify. His rendition of Try to Remember gently draws us in before he hints at any of the horrors of the world. His duet with Matt (He Can See It) is disturbing and loathsome in its foreboding, prophetic nature. The latter is a highlight that comes in stark contrast to the opening number, another highlight, which is suitably warm, welcoming, and full of the promise of life (and a good story to boot!).

You would think that living with the man would have proffered some production clues, gossip, something, anything…but no; I took our six year old daughter, Poppy, to see the opening night performance having heard Try to Remember sung in the shower just once or twice and I guess from the bathroom renditions we were both expecting great things. Happily, no one was disappointed and in fact the common cry over Chandon after the show was, “Why do we not hear this voice more often?” and “Why is this man not on stage more often?” (I said the same thing about Mackellar.)… Coward has focused on directing and producing for a little while, as you would know if you’ve been following this blog; this is his first role onstage since SRT’s Short+Sweet winner, So, Where Is It? Perhaps we’ll see him in a musical again sometime soon since he’s suddenly remembered he can sing.

Sam Coward & Rachel Halverson The Fantasticks

This is Sam’s glare because I’ve overshared.

We knew Stephen Moore would present hilariously and along with his sidekick, the silent Mortimer, played by newcomer Mal Farvar, he provides a lot of the comic relief.

The young lovers each reveal some good character work and a subtlety that Mackellar told me was honed during rehearsals as they imagined they were acting for camera. As Luisa, Rachel Halverson is sweet, naïve and thrust into love and confusion. She can afford to sing out a little more with such a beautiful, natural voice, reminding me of Sweeney Todd’s Johanna. The keyboards (one a keyboard, one a keyboard masquerading as a harp) could also do with a fuller sound or simply slightly more volume. Without overpowering the voices, as so often happens – still – in community theatre venues, it might help the younger singers. Callum Hamacek is love-struck and brave and foolish (and humbly forlorn and defeated) as Matt. They are delightful, completely convincing, establishing a beautiful connection early in the piece, which helps us go with them on their journey. The couple’s final duet is simple and quite simply, captivating.

The Fantasticks is a rather old-fashioned, whimsical musical yet it manages to retain its relevance and is very much to be enjoyed by the whole family. On opening night it ran at a languid pace, however; I’ve been told it has since picked up and audiences of all ages have delighted in the opening weekend.

The paragraph that doesn’t fit…

In The Fantasticks El Gallo is employed to “rape” Luisa and it is explained, painstakingly, that this simply means he will pretend to abduct her. ie. he will stage a kidnapping.

I have to discuss this. It’s played heavily on my mind since seeing the show. Rape. Rape. RAPE. What does that word mean to you? Does it imply abduction without sexual contact? No. It does not. Not anymore. The very sound of the word – go on, say it out loud – implies violence, aggression, gross abuse of power against a person and grave injustice. Why? Because that is how we have come to know the word. It’s the word we have used often enough for long enough now to describe the act of sexual violence and disempowerment over one person by another. Call a rape an abduction and it does not smell sweeter. The archaic definition is the one that is used in the show and though it is explained in the scene, it doesn’t seem to me to be an acceptable inclusion these days. How do the schools deal? Do they cut the scene and later replace the word “rape” for “abduction” or another? I watched audience members squirming and audience members trying not to be seen squirming during this scene because, after all, regardless of what they were feeling, hadn’t the term just been contexualised by El Gallo? (Who would dare to question El Gallo?)!

Luckily, the scene occurs early enough for some to forget it entirely but for those who don’t, for those who think on it later, it’s a tricky issue. What would you do?

rape

noun

1.   the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.

 2.   any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.

 3.   statutory rape.

 4.   an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: the rape of the countryside.

 5.   Archaic . the act of seizing and carrying off by force.

verb (used with object

6.   to force to have sexual intercourse.

 7.   to plunder (a place); despoil.

 8.   to seize, take, or carry off by force.

verb (used without object)

9. to commit rape.

Origin:

1250–1300;  (v.) Middle English rapen  < Anglo-French raper  < Latin rapere  to seize, carry off by force, plunder; (noun) Middle English  < Anglo-French ra ( a ) p ( e ), derivative of raper

Now, after that note, you may have second thoughts about taking the children but I say take them and discuss. Children, just as adults do, take in what they take in and leave with their own thoughts, feelings and unique responses to what they’ve seen. What is theatre if it’s not for challenging us, urging us to re-think long-held beliefs and core community values? And what is its worth if we can’t update it to make it relevant and tell our age-old stories in entirely new ways if necessary, in order to reach entirely new audiences? This is an age-old tale told very simply and it requires a simple rewrite.

The Fantasticks contains darker moments because life contains darker moments. G.K Chesterton said that fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed. With so much of the English language undergoing similar change, I think it far better to discuss the issue, contexualising it each time something comes up.

Try to Remember, regardless of how we respond to the rape/abduction notion, this is the world’s longest running musical! Of course it should continue to be seen and enjoyed.

The update/note…

After the Sunday matinee, Director, Ian Mackellar, decided to change the word “rape” to “raid”, having received enough feedback from cast members and audience about its contextualisation, to reconsider the inclusion of the word. He felt the word was not being accepted for the reasons discussed above. So now you can happily take the kids and know that there is one less worldly issue to discuss (don’t put off that conversation for too long though!).

10
Mar
12

so what will the state theatre company of the future look like?

Well now, let’s see. It’s Friday and the Forum (and the opening of The Greenhouse) was Thursday. It seems like an eternity ago! I’ve been busy, yes (I’m always busy) but I’ve been thinking. I’ve been listening to a lot of John Bucchino again lately and this is the core of what I came away thinking (and singing) during the drive back to the coast and upon getting home and going to bed instead of blogging until 2am…

RHYME IS WHAT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO DO UNLESS WE WANT IT TO

When we look at the state theatre companies across the country, do we not think they all look a bit like this?

Yes. It’s a neat street.

Of course the vision for the QTC of the future varies enormously, depending on who you ask to paint the picture. The many, many, MANY pictures are wonderful! And at least we all seem to agree that we would prefer to see something more like this:

And because we know we can, we want to feel that we are creating work that helps us to look like this:

Imagine what the street would look like if our state theatre companies all followed their dreams and each became a true home to their artists, producing sustainably, a vast array of work in traditional and non-traditional spaces, which truly reflected their communities; their people, their stories, their hopes, their dreams and their realities.

WOW!

So my point is this: it’s time to drop a great big bloody bucket of orange paint over each of our state theatre companies!

If there’s an Artistic Director game to do it, it’s Wesley Enoch. He has, better than any other as far as I’m concerned, established a firm platform of community engagement and open public forum. Wait. To trump Cate, he may have to appear on a community group’s stage himself somewhere, say in Ipswich…

Some stakeholders prefer to take a similar approach to that of Lucas Stibbard’s, by taking a look at what we don’t want. This is a fine approach to begin with; ruling out what’s not desired and leaving us with the perfect picture! Easy! But there’s no perfect picture, as we know. And that’s why it’s so hard to make the changes. What if we start small? What if we don’t even call our subscribers “subscribers”? Are they not now “season ticket holders”? Language and perception are two of the big orange splots within the bigger picture.

A number of artists mentioned that we might do better to look at the sporting model in Queensland. This is something that Sam (my husband) has been saying for years. A rare breed, he loves his sport AND the arts. Depending on the season and whether or not the art is paying, one will always win out.

Anyway, Paul Bishop, our extraordinary facilitator for the afternoon’s forum (really, he should have his own morning show), introduced by Associate Director of QTC, Todd MacDonald, gave us a brief history of the world’s culture and asked us to fill in the blanks for the last 50 – 60 years, specifically for Brisbane theatre. What? Oh, right. To appreciate where we are now and where we’re headed, we need to understand what’s gone before us. Fair enough.

So we had our afternoon’s schedule on a whiteboard and, armed with coloured felt pens, A4 paper, post-its (and iPhones), although we were already running 15 minutes late, we were ready to change the world!

We realised, after just a few minutes, that there has been far richer theatrical culture in Brisbane than many realise, for much longer than some care to remember. Kaye Stevenson commented that resilient artists have continued to work for a long time in this town. What a timely reminder (mentioned again later, during the Welcome to Country from Uncle Des and the opening address from Wesley Enoch) that we must keep asking our elders what has happened before us. We must be willing to listen and take down their stories. We must re-tell them. We must continue to value that which has gone before. I don’t doubt that we do, just as I don’t doubt that there is anyone who doesn’t want to do things better than they’ve been done before.

The question of sustainability was a major one – it kept coming up in conversation – and it took David Walters, the master of green lighting design (and by green I mean sustainable and not for Wicked), to point out that we had full lights on in the room for the day, for a discussion, rather than all of us looking like death-warmed-up under the ugly lights (he didn’t say anything about looking like death-warmed-up but we all know that’s the issue here).

The theatre is an aesthetic thing! Nobody wants to be photographed under the fluoros!

Luke Jaaniste spoke of the theatre company being more a part of our entire ecosystem, a living, breathing, feeding, inter-dependent organism, though his paper reads more clearly about this than his brief address to us on the day and I urge you to go back and read it. Lisa Erhart gave us the Galaxy Analogy and poignantly noted that she is one of the cool, older, red stars within our galaxy, while there are others involved who are the hot, new, young blue stars. She wants us to smash the elite theatre culture that appears to be – still – associated with the company and for it to become far greater reaching and responsive to community. Anna Molnar used the term “theatre without borders” and also noted, later, that to trademark it or copyright it would defeat its purpose. It was noted that the only “colour” in the room was in the paper and pens. Todd MacDonald summarised that the state theatre company has a responsibility to raise standards and tell the stories that truly reflect our community. This came up repeatedly. In Farmer Rob’s words, we must start to “sell to the farmers.”

Rob spoke about farmers who sing – they’re happier – and have “thrown out the farm”. (I’m waiting to see the link for this organisation and when I do, I’ll add it here.) This became more relevant as we began discussing the traditional space, the buildings and that “elite” culture of pre-booking, dressing “appropriately” and going to dinner and a show. Todd asked, “Should we lose the mothership?” There was deathly silence. As Wesley honed in on later, the place is significant. It’s important to have a home for artists and a place where people can gather together. As a little, tiny, independent company who floats from theatre to theatre, to Boreen Point, to Community Hall, to park, to beach, to living room, to vacant shop, I know this to be true. We feel it. All the time.

IMHO a company needs a place to call home.

The need to re-structure the company came up several times, with artists wanting artists paid first. Fair enough. On the other hand, it was acknowledged that admin need to be able to sell a show in order for the artists to have an audience! Andrea Moor said the company should be one that, “serves the fans and the artists first.” She also wants to see, as we all do, the companies working together. I don’t doubt this is happening more than ever before, with the dialogue now wide open between QTC and La Boite.

Emma Bennison spoke on behalf of Access Arts and expressed her frustration (echoed by many others in the room and on Twitter) at the funding bodies favouring young and emerging artists for far too long. She reminded us that it’s distressing for her sector of the community to see able-bodied actors playing characters with disabilities. There are actors with disabilities who are not even being considered for these roles. I was waiting for Suer Manger to pipe up. Emma also stated, quite rightly, that we can’t possibly become a more inclusive and accessible company while we continue to make assumptions about people (artists) with disabilities.

Angharad Wynne-Jones joined us via Skype (Sigh. There are always technical difficulties, aren’t there?) and shared with us these words:

We need to balance fear and hope. We need to do things better and differently. We need to hold hands before the paradigm shift.

And a wonderful, quirky, living room work, choreographed by Lucy Guerin for the homeartproject.com

Matt Delbridge spoke about London’s Green Theatre Project, citing excellent examples to balance the horrific stats of energy use (read waste) by theatres everywhere. You only have to Google “green theatre” to find enough material to occupy your reading time until Arcola Theatre becomes the first carbon neutral theatre in the world. And they will. Check out what they’re doing – for their theatre family and for their wider community – here. Our own Umber Productions achieved a small miracle with David Walters lighting their production of Elaine Acworth’s Water Wars. Their Education Pack provides nice, simple detail about how this was done. I wish the writers and implementers of the new you-beaut rigid bloody curriculum would see more theatre. Just saying.

“I limited the amount of power used. I know it was a kind of arbitrary thing, but I set myself the task – and the show was a touring piece – to run from a 10 AMP (domestic) socket. It simplified things.”

Walters told Kate Foy that the biggest challenge in Water Wars was, ‘getting my head around this approach to lighting. I don’t know of anyone else who’s taken it on. It’s challenging – bloody and dangerous at times but, at other times, very rewarding.’ He continues, ‘… and just because we have the tools doesn’t mean it’s good design. I’m conscious of LEDs being fitted in to what we’ve always known. We’re in transition. We’re in a catchup game now and, for the first time, we have tools we don’t quite know what to do with. We’ve now got computers which have given us extraordinary and sophisticated ways of controlling that light, once we’ve generated it.

Where I am learning is in the area of control. There are old ways of doing things but now there is so much flexibility. For example, there are 60, 80, 100s of channels of control. I’m having to learn to re-think in design terms.’

Right. What have I missed? What we believe is essential to the state theatre company of the future. And the observations from Steven Mitchell Wright. Hmmm. Could have heard a pin drop. Steven said aloud a lot of what has been unspoken. In order to move forward, QTC need to address a lot of problems.  He is an advocate for adapting our language and our labels to better represent the stakeholders. He sees a need for greater depth and transparency in the engagement with community and while he acknowledges that the discussions, debates and forums are happening already, QTC now need to genuinely respond and make the tough calls to bring about real change for artists.
Since I’m still up and here, here is a little something from Travis Bedard, in the middle of the current #2amt discussion (if you’re in theatre and not on Twitter yet, IT’S TIME), re the problem with theatre in America. I include it because we all have to remember that we all have something to do with making changes for a better future. That sounds awfully trite but, especially in our theatrical circles, I get sick to death of hearing the sneering and judgement before support and admiration for our fellow artists. Be a part of the change. Be the change you want to see. Stop wasting paper. Turn off the lights. Get to a show via public transport. Make braver, better, smarter choices. Keep creating new work. Keep sharing the work. Share the love MORE.
QTC is not UNloved. Far from it! We just don’t know how to show our love sometimes.
“You understand of course, given the size of this niche, there’s an almost 50% chance that YOU are a problem with theatre in America?”
-Travis Bedard
No problem here! No problems that are not being addressed, anyway. Keep supporting, sharing and inspiring change. The changes will come about because we continue to challenge, adapt and evolve. Meanwhile, The Greenhouse, the youth ensemble, Wesley’s regular newsletters and the engagement with community give me confidence that QTC are serious about change. For the first time, they are questioning – from the inside – the necessity of rhyme. The state theatre company of the future looks like it’s genuinely open to suggestions and will look very different if we just give them a chance and a bit of encouragement along the way. We need to keep reminding them:
RHYME IS WHAT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO DO UNLESS WE WANT IT TO
And we need to remember that sometimes, half of the audience – even the invited guests amongst them – are not going to find your art interesting, regardless of the changes you make. This actually happened last night, to my, er, horror. They will continue talking and drinking, regardless of what or who you have put on the stage in front of them. But no problem. Not everybody watches the grand final, either. Let’s not be so precious, let’s not waste time and resources dwelling on it (let’s not decide to leave them off the guest list for the next opening, which was one suggestion I overheard in the more attentive section of The Greenhouse crowd); let’s just get on with the show and bring on the theatre companies of the future.
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