Tag Archives: theater

in which I discuss the thoroughly modern woman

Allow me a moment to muse on female heroines. I am not a bra-burning feminist and my opinions here are pretty mild, so I hope no one runs away.

This past weekend, I went with some friends to see Thoroughly Modern Millie, one of my favorite campy Broadway musicals. I saw this show once when I was around twelve and loved it. The dancing, the flappers, the 20s music—but the thing I really remembered loving was Millie. Twelve year old me loved Millie as a character. Even at twelve, before I understood what sexism felt like, I recognized that Millie was different from most of the women that populated musicals. She was sassy, smart, and brave, and I carried Millie with me for years as a heroine with something to hold onto.

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Millie as played by Sutton Foster on Broadway
Is she not the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen!?

So then I saw Thoroughly Modern Millie again this weekend, and it was exactly the same delightful show I remembered. But about halfway through, II found myself thinking, “I don’t remember this show being so much about marriage.” Little me had not registered that Millie, brave and driven as she is, was all the time driving towards finding herself a husband. But as I watched the show, I realized that her goal in no way destroyed my image of her as the feminist icon that I had carried from my tweens. Millie was still, in a lot of ways, everything I wanted to be, despite the fact that marriage is pretty low on my priorities list and I don’t usually associate feminist icons with a strong desire to settle down with a man.

Which got me thinking.

I read a really great article last week called “Why I Hate Strong Female Characters” by Sophia McDougal. Though I don’t agree with everything she says, I liked the main take away, which is that the idea of a Strong Female Character is a damaging one. First because it creates a differentiation between the genders that we are trying to fight. No one every praises a book for having a strong male character, but we say it all the time about women.

The article also pushed back against the idea that a strong female character is one who wears trousers, cuts her hair short, and knows how to fight. So many books and movies today say, “Look! Woman fires a gun! Woman punches snarky man in face! She is strong! She is independent! She is sexy! Aspire to be her!” In my experience, these are the women that usually come off as violent and volatile, but they lack their own drive in life. And when the moment comes for them to actually take a stand and take care of themselves, they fall apart.

Millie doesn’t throw any punches. She doesn’t go into battle. She doesn’t hold a gun. She does bob her hair, but that’s all in pursuit of fashion. What she does do is set her sights on what she wants, move actively towards it, roll with the setbacks that come along the way, and adjust her plan to fit them. And in the end, she recognizes and lets go of her flaws. Which are all things I want to emulate in my own life.

It didn’t matter that she wanted to get married and I don’t. I’ve been laboring for a while under an incorrect idea that a desire to fall in love and get married is a defect in a woman’s character, and I’m trying to let go of that. Millie showed me otherwise. She is an example of a woman who is fine on her own but better with someone else. It doesn’t make her weak. It doesn’t mean she needs a man to complete her. It just means she knows what she wants, and she goes, and she finds it and she gets it. And I freaking love that.

To me, what makes a compelling heroine is a woman who is actively in pursuit of what she wants. Whether that is marriage or a career or a perfect cup of tea, that is what I want in my heroines. A woman who is active in her own life rather than acted upon. Wanting love and marriage does not make a woman weak any more than kicking ass and taking names makes her strong.

That is what I want in my friends, male and female, and in my own life: people who find what they want and they go for it.

And that is about as opinionated as I get. Carry on, and happy Monday.

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in which I reflect upon the little Shakespeare company that could

Like most of my stories, this one begins with a children’s lit reference:

This is the story of the little theater company that could.

Four years ago, the summer before I went to Europe, I was bored. Like bored out of my mind. Hated my job, all my friends were on missions or in school or just living elsewhere for various reasons and I was chomping at the bit to get out of Utah and into the big wide world.

So I naturally did what every bored nineteen year old does: I started a Shakespeare company.

I did not know what I was doing. I cannot emphasize that enough. I had directed like a play and a half before. I am not a scholar of Shakespeare or acting. I just love them both dearly. But the previous year, I’d done some work with Logan Youth Shakespeare Co, an amazing theater company in Logan, Utah, that puts on full-length Shakespeare with actors ages 8 to 181. I was so inspired working with them and seeing what the director had made out of nothing that I wanted to do more of that.

So, armed with nothing but my usual ridiculous passion for absurd things and a desire to do something way beyond my skill level, I started to put together a show.

When I went to post the audition notice on a local theater website, one of the mandatory boxes you had to fill in was “Company Name.” I had no company. This was literally me and my backyard and a public domain script copied off the internet. Then I had this train of thought:

“We’re doing Shakespeare…my favorite Shakespeare quote is “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”…we’re doing the Tempest…and that quote is from the Tempest…” And then I typed “Such Stuff Productions” in the box and posted the audition notice.

Three months later, the strangest and most awesome group of people ever, most of them under 182, put on a production of “The Tempest” in an outdoor amphitheater, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

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The next summer, upon my return from England, I found myself again bored and again wanting to do something that required great passion and mild insanity. So again, I posted an audition notice, this time for “Coriolanus,” one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays, and signed it Such Stuff Productions. That year, our cast was all under 213 and I have honestly never worked with a better group of people in my life.

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It is a remarkable thing to look across a stage and see twenty-something young people looking back at you with total trust and total dedication and know that they would probably walk with you to the ends of the earth if you asked them to. They were also, as a group, incredibly giving. Giving of their time, their talents, their message to the audience that came to see them.

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And my, but the audience came. Our same little amphitheater was packed for four scorching nights in August. The show turned into one of the most perfect experiences of my life, the untouchable sort that you whisper when you talk about and cry for no reason when you think about.

And then the next summer…I moved to Chicago. And though Such Stuff Productions was finished.

But then two lovely young friends of mine picked up where I left off. That summer, they staged As You Like It, with the same spirit that had hoisted Tempest and Corio: young people who are passionate and enthusiastic and just want to give. I wasn’t able to see it, as I was in Chicago, but this summer I was able to see their production of Merry Wives of Windsor. And the whole time I watched it, I just felt so freaking proud.

I am so proud of every single member of that company for continuing the tradition of Such Stuff Productions, which is making something out of nothing and then giving it away again. It is about inspiring people to be artistic and creative, about learning to work together as students, artists, and friends, and share the things we love with others. I am so grateful to the people who believed in my original dream for this company and have worked so hard to not just keep it alive, but grow it and make it better.

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To the company of Merry Wives of Windsor—what a treat it was to see you all on Thursday night! Thank you for continuing to share your passion and the passion of this company with others. I respect you so much, and I am so grateful you have kept this company alive. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and never stop doing what you love!

You can like Such Stuff Productions on Facebook, and you probably should, since they are awesome. If you didn’t get that already. 

  1. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my career path feeding into children’s lit was a direct result of my work with LYS.
  2. And one over 70. And one who had never been on stage before. And several who didn’t know who Shakespeare was.
  3. With one glaring exception—our villain was played by a 30-something carpenter who had never acted, only read Shakespeare in middle school, and was totally outstanding on stage.
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in which I visit the bard

Hello! I am back! You probably didn’t even notice I was gone because I am a master of the scheduled blog post.

Where was I, you may ask? Oh, just my favorite place in the entire world. Cedar City, Utah, home of the Utah Shakespearean Festival and pure awesome.

The story of my family and the Utah Shakespearean Festival began in 2002, when we packed up in our Subaru for the first time and made the trek. I was 11 and the MT was 8. Younger than most people start being serious theater goers, but my parents have always taken the approach of exposing us to great things earlier than most. I saw my first Shakespeare play that summer, As You Like It, in the closest existing replica to Shakespeare’s Globe outside of London. And it was magic. I fell in love with Shakespeare there on that warm July evening and, in many ways, the theater too.

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Since then, Cedar Ciy has been my home away from home, the only sure fixture of every summer where we can really get away from it all. It is our best week as a family, a week of glorious theater and lively intellectual discussion surrounding the Bard and his better and lesser known works. It was also the sight of the best days of my high school years, when my theater department competed in the national high school Shakespeare competition1 annual held there.

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a rare family photo in front of the super large banners that hang on the outside of the theater.

I love the USF. I really can’t emphasize this enough. I love the plays they do. I love the seminars they do. I love the infuriatingly pretentious discussions about the plays and the seminars that is had daily at the pine grove. I love sitting on the wet grass and watching the pre-show while reading our souvenir program and talking about the actors’ previous roles like some people would discuss stats on a baseball card2. I love watching the sky and worrying about rain driving the outdoor shows inside, which it never does3. I love the giant banners with photos from the shows, I love the canyon wind that whips the stage, I love the gold leafing in the Randall theater balcony. I love the giant tree in the Adams courtyard and the woodcarver that words underneath it. I love the statue of Shakespeare in the lobby. I love the field where we used to rehearse before the Shakespeare competition (see first picture in this post). I love trying on masks with the MT in the gift shoppe. I love that they spell it gift shoppe. I love the uncomfortable seats in the Adams Theater balcony, the overpriced cream cheese tarts we always buy at intermission. I love being too shy to talk to the actors we spot around the festival grounds and feeling like we’ve just had a celebrity siting.

Most of all, I love the way this small community in southern Utah all comes together every year to make some damn fine Shakespeare.

This is the second summer in a row that I didn’t think attending the Shakespeare Festival was going to happen for me, but it did, and I feel so lucky to have gone again4. I love, love, love the Utah Shakespearean Festival, and the gift they gave little 11 year old me of beautiful, exciting theater that has been inspiring me ever since, and continues to inspire me every day.

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  1. Performing at the USF with my high school team is what I still think of as my Patronus Moment, or if dementors ever attacked me and I had to conjure a Patronus, running down to collect our first prize trophy is the happy moment I would think of.
  2. The MT and I are a bit possessive of the people who work at the festival. We have our favorites, our least favorites, our outrages and excitement over casting. It’s a very niche sort of nerd.
  3. Last year, we had the privilege of seeing a sensational production of Titus Andronius on the outdoor stage. We were apprehensive all day that a storm was going to break and force the show indoors, but instead of rain, we just got lightning and thunder, meaning that during the most climactic moments of Shakespeare’s darkest show, the sky was full of lightning. It’s the sort of magic you can’t pay for or plan.
  4. This year, I felt like I needed to go because of one particular play we saw: Peter and the Star-Catcher. Remember how I saw this play a few months ago in New York? Well I saw it again in Cedar City5 and had one of the most emotional reactions to a play I’ve ever had. It is a beautiful play in its own right, but it was one of those strange and serene coincidences where a certain piece of art comes to you right when you need it, and it changes you6.
  5. I realize it isn’t Shakespeare. They don’t just do Shakespeare.
  6. Not a joke, I am tearing up just thinking about it. It may be years before I can think about Peter and the Starcatcher without tearing up.
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in which I watch the Tonys

Last night was one of my favorite nights of the year—Tony Tony Tony!

Correct, it was the 67th annual Tony awards, celebrating the best1 that Broadway has to offer. In spite of the fact that what was clearly the best musical of the season hardly won anything, I am still a devoted Tony fan, and I was excited this year that I was able to join my family at our annual viewing party at Magwitch’s house, since it was she who took me to my first Broadway play. We all cheered on the Tonys like most people cheer on professional sporting events.

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Posters from the first shows Magwitch and I saw.

Though my pick for the season, Matilda2, only took home a smattering of the awards it should have, I was excited to see Pippin walk away with four, though frankly it could have won everything and I would have still thought it deserved more3.

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The MT and Mum prepare for the Tonys with identical manic grins

I had a very unexpectedly theatrical week. Between the Tonys, auditioning for my first show in a long time, and seeing a lovely production of one of my favorite musicals, I felt myself looking backwards at the girl I used to be with big Broadway dreams of her own. They don’t belong to me anymore, but they will always still be a part of me, and a part of who I am will always belong to the theater. Even though that’s not the direction I went with my life, I owe so much of myself to directors, performers, drama teachers, playwrights, fellow actors, technicians, and audiences. More than anything, I owe them a deep and abiding love for storytelling that began in the theater and has carried into my career as an author.

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Just like Neil Patrick Harris said in his absolutely brilliant opener; “There’s a kid in the middle of nowhere sitting and living for Tony performances and singing and flipping along with the Pippins and Wickeds and Kinkys, Matildas, and Mormonses. So it might reassure that kid and do something to spur that kid cause I promise that all of us up here tonight, we were that kid.”

That was me. That still is me—that kid at home wanting to do something amazing that makes other people feel as much as theater has always made me.

Theater, I love you. Broadway, I love you, and I always will. Even when you give Kinky Boots the Tony over Matilda.

 

  1. Theoretically
  2. Which I love because it combines my three great loves—children’s lit, musical theater, and England
  3. You remember the story of when I saw Pippin, don’t you?
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