"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Monday, December 9, 2013

Let's See The Good Done By The Sound of Music Live

My friend shared a blog post on FaceBook this morning defending the IDEA of NBC's recent The Sound Of Music Live. The blogger, and Jen, were calling out "theatre people" for the vitriol leveled at this performance all over social media. I'll take the liberty of quoting Jen:

I, for one, was really disappointed that the majority of the theater-lovers on my friends list couldn't find the positives in "The Sound of Music Live", and instead chose to post only negative remarks. If theater is going to survive, it has to reach and engage new audiences. As a long time community theater participant, I'm not ashamed to append "by any means necessary" to that sentiment.

And the blogger, Emerson Collins, hit the nail on the head describing the atmosphere on the live interwebs duing the show:

 It quite clearly became a competition to see how creatively each person could say they hated it more than the next person.  I find that disappointing and somewhat sad.

He's right. It WAS a competition to out-snark the other person. My wife and I watched it together and she was reading and sharing the FaceBook commentary as we went along. It was truly sad. And mean. And entirely missed the point.

 I'm going to restate a lot of what Emerson wrote in his blog here, but honestly, reading his post felt like he wrote it after listening in on  Lisa and I as we watched the show and observed the reaction. NBC went way out on a limb to do this show. Live TV just doesn't happen, and people expect perfection on the tube. Very few have ever seen a live theater performance, and they don't know what to expect from one, or how to judge it. This wasn't at all exactly like live theatre. It was certainly a hybrid of that and television, with cameras following the action rather than the scenes being changed in front of the audience. But even given that, it was very different from what the modern television audience has come to expect. It took courage to even attempt such a thing, and as someone involved in community theater myself, I really, really appreciate that.

Given the challenge of drawing an audience to something new, they needed an ace in the hole. They found Carrie Underwood. I'm no great fan myself, heck, I was calling her Trisha Yearwood up until I sat down to watch the show, but lots and lots of people love the woman. She has a built in following and a name recognition (I don't count) that brought an audience to this show that a Broadway actress never could have. Was she a great actress, or even a very good one? Nope. She acted like a pop singer. Because, well, it's what she is. It's fine to criticize her acting, to an extent, but not to criticize HER for her acting. She was giving her all in an effort to make a show come to life for people who may have never had that experience. When was the last time YOU tried to do that, or anything like it?  Carrie Underwood did more, I think, to ensure theater will hang on for a while than the collected casts of all those shows on Broadway that very few can afford to go see. Emerson points out the numbers:

 18.5 million people watched the show, the largest non-sports NBC Thursday night since the Frasier finale in 2004.  (For the record, it would take twenty 3000-seat theatres nearly a year of performing every night of the week to reach that many people.)

Believe me, I  am in a position to fret over the number of tickets sold to live community theatre shows, and those are some stellar numbers. People saw something very close to live theater. It may have made them consider seeing an actual live theatre show in their own communities. It may have made some want to see one in MY community. It made the idea more accessible, I think, and that is important.

It's also what "theater people" tend to be worst in the world at doing themselves. I believe the race to be snarkiest is rooted in the basic elitism of many involved in theater.  I am in the theater, I serve as a board member of Brunswick Little Theatre, actually I'm going to be president of the group in a few weeks, but I am not of the theater. I've been made aware of that in ways blatant and subtle, purposeful and accidental, many times over the last couple years, and particularly during my service on the board. I have definite opinions about the arts and their role in the human condition, but I am hesitant to share them too much for fear of looking like a fool in front of these people. I'm getting over that. 

But I'm not over it yet. This is the closest I'll come to sharing my opinions on this beyond Lisa and my close friends. Jen and Emerson shared their concern about all the negativity turning people off of theater in general, or turning entertainment companies like NBC away from attempting a similar project in the future, but it affected me as well. Despite being as free with my opinions as anyone you are likely to meet, I never once commented on The Sound Of Music the other night. My disgust at the hate-fest was shared with Lisa alone. I've not even commented on Jen's post sharing the blog I enjoyed so much beyond simply "like"ing it. And I won't.

See, because I'm on that board and I have and will in the future advocate for or against performing certain shows or presenting theater in a certain way, I'm paranoid about what my "theatre people" friends will think of my opinion. I didn't want to be the only one out there pointing out the positives of Sound of Music because I feared it would make my opinion even less valid to the board than it is now. I'm pretty sure my fellow board members all put me somewhere on the spectrum between blithering idiot and raving lunatic. Even the ones I consider friends. The condescension at those meetings has been unreal. I am a pretty confident guy, but it has even gotten to me. I mean, I do have very little experience in theater, but that doesn't mean I don't love it. It doesn't mean people that haven't had the chance to experience it couldn't or wouldn't love it.

There is this natural feeling among many theatre people that the "others" are incapable of appreciating a show that isn't as basic and simple and familiar as possible. I suspect these people don't want to challenge audiences, or bring new audiences into the more accessible shows, because they like being an elite, knowing about things others don't. I mean if the guy who framed their house can enjoy and discuss in detail a bare bones, avant-garde production of Beowulf, how does that Masters of Education hanging on their wall make them a better person than him? And yes, I had that discussion with a builder friend of mine.

Art is meant to be enjoyed. It lives more with each person it reaches. Theatre is meant to be seen, it can and should be enjoyed by anyone with a heart to touch. The Sound Of Music did that for some people. We should not only let them enjoy it, but celebrate their discovery of a new genre and invite them into our world.

So, thanks Jen and Emerson. Remember you two, for the same reason that it is particularity hurtful to a show for theater people to hate all over it, the positive opinions of people like yourself influence and encourage the rest of us just as strongly. And we need it.

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