Friday, March 21, 2014

Hold Your Applause

We took the kids to their first real theatrical experience Monday—we went to see the professional tour of Beauty and the Beast. It was a wonderfully creative adaptation of the movie and a solid production. I had a lot of fun. The children, however, have been oddly quiet about the whole thing. I can’t tell if they were just too tired to react or entirely underwhelmed.

Then again, when I went with S. on a field trip to a local professional theater last fall, I saw something that made me wonder.

For those of you who don’t know, I defined myself as a theater person for twenty-two years. I performed in my first non-Christmas pageant play at the age of eight. I did shows, listened to musical soundtracks, went to friends’ shows, majored in theater, did community theater, sat on theater boards, took theater into schools, and even dabbled in professional theater.

I stopped all that when we moved to Florida. We knew we wanted children and didn’t want them to grow up chewing on light cables. Nothing wrong with that—we just felt that lifestyle wouldn’t work for us. And for most of the last ten years, I haven’t even missed it. I have actual children with tantrums now—who needs divas? (I kid because I love, people!)

So attending a good professional show here in town, with good design and good performances, got me a little wistful and nostalgic. I miss the bonding, the light-bulb moments of creativity, the laughs, the complete lack of inhibitions, the last-minute crunch, the high of a good performance, the bittersweet feelings on closing night. I miss the giddy feeling of planning to sleep in on the morning after the cast party because the show’s over and you are OFF for a day or two or a week.

So there’s that.

But then…there was some other stuff.

Clearly, I hadn’t been to a show in a while at that time—and certainly not one performed exclusively for schools. I didn’t expect the part of the curtain speech that went “this is a live performance; we are not on YouTube. You can hear us and we can hear you, so please don’t talk during the show.”

So the theater insider in me thought, “Okay. Fair enough. And the request—in fact, the whole curtain speech—was well-performed: charming, light, and in good humor. Okay.”

And then the theater insider in me cringed as the really funny, really well-played commedia dell’arte-style show unfolded. Why did I cringe? The show was fantastic. And that’s the rub. It was FUNNY, people—and the kids weren’t laughing.

Okay, two or three ruffians giggled (just as Little A. would have) throughout the slapstick antics, but the rest of these sweet, well-behaved, nice kids listened respectfully and quietly. They obediently remembered not to react as they would to YouTube, but then what? They had no idea how to react to a live performance.

Some of my happiest theatrical memories involve performing Shakespeare for middle schoolers—the comedies and adolescents are a match made in heaven. The shows and the audience were witty, full of themselves, fond of body humor, and fixated on the opposite sex. And a joyful mutual appreciate grew between the cast and audience each performance.

I hope modern life hasn’t diminished that fabulous unspoken chemistry between actors and audience.

And yet there is hope for these oppressed young spirits, people. On the bus on the way home, S. held up her parting gift of candy and sang to the tune of “I Wanna Be Sedated.” She serenaded me with, “Bamp bam-bampbamp-bamp, buh-bam-bamp-bamp, I wanna eat my Smarties.”

To  mix musical metaphors, I don’t think either S. or Little A. is likely to end up as just another brick in the wall.

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