Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Flowers for Algernon

It's been a busy week so far, but I wanted to drop a note here.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the recent production of Flowers for Algernon at Lansing Civic Players. It was one of those shows where I left thinking, "This is what community theater should be doing."

It was a thought that had less to do with the actual play and more to do with the inclusiveness of the casting and the willingness to take real risks. See, I think it is far more risky to put someone up on the stage with little to no experience than it is to take great actors and give them a meaty script.

But more on that when I have the time to write coherently and at slightly more length.


Anonymous said...

It's kind of a double edged sword. A theater gives a director a reasonably large sum of money to put a show on for them and they expect a quality product as does the audience who plunks down their hard earned monies. The director usually has about 6 weeks to accomplish this and many are afraid to take the chance on the "unknown". Another thing that enters into the mix is the fact that directors don't submit shows that they don't think they can cast which causes them to have some preconceived ideas as to who would fit the role which often translates into a subconscious tilt toward the particular actor they originally pictured in that part. The other side of the coin is that the only way for an actor to grow is to get the opportunity to be up there on stage and so a director should be looking for opportunities to give them that chance. Then there are the critics who will blast a director for haven taken that chance because the critic felt the play was to complex for new actors, or whatever. I feel like I'm rambling, but I think you make a good point. I think it is something that all of us in the theater community need to think about and look for ways to accomplish - in terms of getting new blood out there on stage and behind the scenes.

Bridgette Redman said...

Agreed! I've been thinking about this subject all week. I wish the technology existed to record my brain synapses and automatically type in my thoughts so I wouldn't lose them all by the time I had a chance to sit at the keyboard. Ah, but as scattershot as my thoughts are, it's probably for the best that the technology for this does NOT exist yet.

You raise so many good points. All of which are worthy of deeper discussion. I have ideas, but I throw them out not because I think they are set-in-stone RIGHT, but because by discussing them, they can mature and, where needed, change.

I will say that I don't believe it is the role of the critic to determine whether it is appropriate for a group to perform a particular show. It is the role to talk about the script and what it does or does not accomplish. It is within the critic's purview to discuss whether a production did justice to the script. I would even argue that a critic should discuss whether the space is appropriate to perform a script. However, I tend to bristle when I read someone trying to dictate who should do what show.

That said, I certainly have my opinions--though those opinions are far more likely to show up on my blog than in any review or column. My blog is my personal rambling. What I write for the newspaper is in a professional capacity and I subject it to different standards. So here I might talk about whether I thought a show was a good match for a particular group.

That said, I thought "Flowers for Algernon" was a good show for Lansing Civic Players to do and that it accomplished the mission of LCP. Hmmm, this is going to be a really long comment, isn't it? I have two chapters that I need to incorporate feedback into. If I can get those done by lunchtime, I'll come back and write the entry that I want to write on Flowers for Algernon over lunch.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the bottom line success of any theatre group is their fiscal ability to continue to put on shows.

As a relative newbie on stage, I once had a director stick her neck out by casting me in a significant supporting role. This led to several more roles and acting becoming my chief hobby.

However, I look at theater more from a fan's eyes than from any insight I have gained from my dozen or so shows.

Show selection is huge. Give the audiences what they prefer and they will come! Proof positive is your earlier comment why Starlight draws so many at $30 a pop. It's not the meal. She knows what they want to see.

Good direction always shines through. Pick the right show and the right director.

Embrace the variety we have in such a small metropolitan area: Two professional theatres, a major university, an active community college, stalwart groups such as LCP and Riverwalk, indie-type cutting edge at IF and Peppermint Creek, and new groups like Starlight and HDCP.

Times are tough. Stretching the entertainment dollar, especially with a family, is challenging. Attending theatre is by no means cheap.

As a fan, I want to see good acting for my money. New people should be given opportunity but hopefully they will be put in a cast that has a lot of experience. That way, they can apply some of their natural talent while observing and learning from those around them.

My advice is to play to your audience. Community theatre that has traditionally targeted a family audience should select shows that appeal to young and old alike! God bless IF and PC for their "critical" success. They know their audience. It's just not something I am doing with my family...

It seems as if we have relegated youth involvement to All of Us Express and Bill Gordon's MSU group. The very largest target audience is being ignored these days.

Dwindling audience numbers can be like a cancer scaring off potential future directors and actors. I didn't see Algernon so I can't comment. Approaching 80 years in existence, I want to see LCP rebound in a big way!

Anonymous said...

I agree with many of these comments. I believe what works well is a good balance of experienced, disciplined, strong performers with the new, "green", inexperienced performers so they have someone to observe, learn from and aspire to emulate. When directing, I have taken many risks with unknowns and at the same time, had well-known performers in my casts. The veterans challenge the newcomers to be the best they can be and teach them theater protocol such as being on time, learning your lines on time, leaving your ego at the door, listening to the director, etc. As a director, I enjoy both the experienced actors (they do not require much energy) AND the first-timers who are challenging and fun as you help them develop and grow to make them the best they can be. Also, I believe audiences tire of seeing the same faces on stage, so a lot can be said for taking risks with newcomers.