Pushing the Envelope
While we're waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the announcement which should be arriving any day now, let's look at another comment from the recent discussion about community theatre in Huntington. This comment is from Mike Murdock (I've edited it down a bit because the original was, like, 15 pages long - you can read the full-length version in the comments on this post). As you'll see, Mike doesn't pull punches when talking about local theatre - it's a topic he's passionate about. Take it away, Mike!
I've been involved with local theatre here for a long time. I've since moved to Hollywood and continued on, so I think I can share a few insights into what we're dealing with.
Awhile back, Jeff Elwell put together a season of shows at the MU theatre department that was nearly unthinkable for this area. They did David Mamet's "American Buffalo" and "Keeley & Du", as well as several others, and those shows are chock full of adult themes and language.
MU STILL had their big crowds. If ANYONE should be doing new and cutting edge work, it should be Marshall. If you're training actors, they need to be trained in not only the classics, but new work as well, regardless of content, because the fact of the matter is, you're supposed to be training them to ACT in the real world, wherever that may lead them, and I promise you that not everyplace in the U.S.A. is so addicted to Rogers & Hammerstein. If you want to be an actor, the last thing you want a casting director to say to you is:
"Well, I see you have plenty of classic, safe shows, but have you ever done anything written since 1975? No Mamet? No Bogosian? No Stoppard? No Lucas? No Durang? No Shepard? You know that's over a 30 year gap in time, right?"
I agree that HOT should keep doing the kinds of shows they do. I agree that First Stage should keep doing what they're doing.
Regardless of what anyone tells you, if you do one show a year in order to pay for your next show the next year, you're going to be stuck doing the "Li'l Abner", "Oklahoma", "Cinderella", "Music Man" dances the rest of your life. BUT, if you are producing theatre as ART, you have to live with the fact that you're CHANGING LIVES instead of MAKING MONEY, whether it's the lives of the people working on the production or the people seeing it. The "starving artist" stereotype is a stereotype for a REASON. Sometimes you have to continually pay the price in order to enlighten the people. A guy in the Bible had the same idea.
Marshall should pave the way for the kind of thing we're talking about, if there's not another group, or a "new" group, to come in and take a season of chances. Marshall should never cater to the idea that they have to do stuff that makes everyone happy. They have a responsibility to prepare their students for the real world of theatre. And at the same time, if they're afraid they're going to lose sponsorships or donations or money in general, then those people need to be put under the microscope, because THEY are the ones holding the students back from learning what they need to be learning.
Let me also clarify that this isn't a rant at the MU School of Theatre. I graduated from Marshall. I was in A LOT of Marshall productions. I learned A LOT from the MUT teachers. But before I finished school with them, I had started in the professional actors training program at Ohio University, a program that consistently did nine main stage shows a year and upward of 20 lab shows. Shows like American Buffalo, Angels in America, The Quick-Change Room, Our Country's Good, Red Noses, Speed-the-Plow, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, The Tooth of Crime, Buried Child, etc. And I have to tell you, Athens has the same kind of people Huntington does, and it's only about an hour and half away. Sure, they do their Shakespeare every year, too, and they have a summer theatre that does a musical, as well as some other local theatre groups outside of town that tackle tough subject matter like anything by Neil Simon.
The point is that they do it all, and the people not only respect them for it, but they attend en masse, and Huntington should be no different.