August 11, 2014

On this blog, I write my last* confessions...

(*read: most recent)

I have a confession to make.  A couple, actually. 

Confession #1 -- About a week or so ago, I started asking myself a question that I was afraid to answer.  The question was, "Am I just unmoved by musical theatre anymore?" The question came as a result of having recently left several productions, from amateur to professional, just feeling...bereft of feeling or emotion.

As a matter of fact, I've been wondering of late if and where and how theatre even belongs in my life.  Becoming a mom to Z has definitely put my life into perspective, regarding how and where I spend my time and money, and sometimes I wonder if I even love it as much as I used to.  (See this post from Theatre Communications Group a while back -- it is a fairly accurate representation of the feelings I've had difficulty expressing in the past 13 months).

Then, this past Friday night, I attended Dallas Theater Center's widely-discussed (and quite polarizing) production of Les Misérables. With an open mind but a guarded heart for my all-time favorite musical, I craned my neck from the edge of my infamous chair at the Wyly Theatre, and spent three hours holding my breath and fighting back tears.

Which leads me to Confession #2 -- I will no longer call myself a "purist" when it comes to theatre.  At least, not in the sense of the word that has me digging in my heels and refusing to accept change or re-imagining of what we've, as a community, deemed "classic" works in the art form. 

Photo by Karen Almond, from DTC web site.
Before scoring my own set of tickets to a performance, I read almost every review of this production, and actively participated in discussions on Facebook theatre group forums (sometimes just to play Devil's Advocate and keep discussion going, but sometimes just to ask questions and be a part of the conversation -- and there was a lot of conversation about this production).  However, once I bought my tickets, I went off the Les Mis grid.  I wanted to spend the next 3.5 weeks in a bubble, and reset myself and my expectations for this production.

Photo by Karen Almond, from DTC web site.
This is not a review.  Others have done that already, and have done it better than I could.  I have thoughts - lots of them - about the direction and the staging and the performances...and also about the whole concept or idea of pushing our boundaries and taking the time to look at a story with fresh perspective.

I am no longer a purist -- but allow me to explain how I'm choosing to define "purist" in this genre. 

Do I believe that we need to consider the author/playwright/composer's intent?  Yes, absolutely.

Do I believe, though, that we cannot think outside the box without compromising the aforementioned intent and/or changing the story?  Not anymore. 

In my opinion, theatre is necessary and beautiful because it speaks to the human condition.  It's almost always about people, isn't it?  Or about how something affects a person or group of people?  I think so.  And we can only hope as artists that, when we make ourselves vulnerable and put our hearts and souls into the characters and breathe life into them on a stage, that we end up sharing something important and real with our audiences.

It's not just about the concept or the lighting or the production -- it's about the story.  It's about the human elements that guided the pen of the playwright/composer, that inspired the director/conductor and that are brought onto a stage by a dedicated, committed and passionate cast of actors.

That's why (and how) Les Mis works, even if you dress it up a bit differently. If anything, I'd say that this version, spearheaded by director Liesl Tommy, works even more so -- because you are unable to go into soft focus and watch this show as you've always seen it.  You perk up a bit in your seat, you tilt your head to the side a bit, and you snap to attention.  You hear lyrics as you've never heard or understood them before.  Themes smack you in the face with a little bit more force than the last reboot you saw come through on a tour.

Photo by Karen Almond, from DTC web site.

Again, I really do have so much more I could say about this production, but I fear I'd end up writing something long enough to rival Hugo's novel.  I do want to say just one more thing before I close with my final feelings:  I do not think that it takes the budget or space of Dallas Theater Center to create all of the same beauty and rawness and humanity that I experienced on Friday night.  It can happen (and is happening) anywhere artists are gathered with a passion and a goal to create art that inspires people.

I'll close with an email I sent to the director the morning after the show.  Perhaps I did tiptoe into "fangirl" territory, but I meant every word. I feel inspired and refreshed as an artist.  And grateful to have so many opportunities coming up to put that inspiration on its feet. 
Dear Ms. Tommy, 

Last night, my husband and I finally were able to score tickets to Les Miserables at Dallas Theater Center. We are semi-active members of the D/FW theater community and we love the musical and wanted to go and support some of our friends in the show. 

Thank you. 

Thank you for being brave with a classic production. Thank you for taking a risk and giving local audiences a chance to expand and open their minds to a fresh perspective on a beloved musical. 

Thank you for taking a concept and clearly weaving it through every single intricacy of a very intricate story. 

Thank you for showing us that, despite time or place of setting, humanity and the human connections we make are still relevant and that, in my opinion, they are why we do theater (or see theater, if our interests don't take us onstage) and why it's our DUTY to keep looking at these stories and songs. 

On a personal note...thank you and the cast for showing me that yes...I do need theater in my life, still. I had a baby a year ago, and since his birth and a very rough first experience back onstage a few months ago, I have been struggling with an artistic existential crisis. I've been asking myself, "Does theater -- specifically musical theater -- even have a place in my life anymore? Is this something that I still NEED?" Last night reminded me in my very bones that the answer is "YES." I was mentally and physically drained after last night's performance from sitting on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, and seeing and understanding new meanings in the story (I know it's cliche, but all of the parent/children moments resonated with me in a brand new way). I just wanted to rest my head in my arms on the balcony and weep. 

In my head, I've just been saying, "I want to email Liesl Tommy and say, simply, 'I got it. I understood it. Thank you.'" But the words kept coming. 

Thank you. And the cast. A million times.

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