This is probably the second most common question I get asked, usually right after I say that I don’t do film, just theatre. (Note: I probably would do film, given the opportunity, but theatre has always been my focus. In part because I love to do the entire journey in one go, in part because I love the energy exchange that comes with having the audience right there with you while you do the work.) I suspect that what most people are asking, even if they can’t put words to it, is “Do you do musicals, Shakespeare plays or just plays?” I usually try to break it down a little more than that, without getting too ramble-ly because, really, who wants to get lectured by someone they just met? But lemme break it down for you.
I do love Shakespeare. There is something so freeing about telling big stories and feeling big emotions in a way that never seems appropriate to do in “real life”. I mean, how often do you actually get to keen in your day-to-day? How often do you get to make pithy sexual remarks or craft oddly specific insults or choose the perfect Classical reference to describe exactly how screwed over you are? It’s like a puzzle, finding all the nuance and allusions in Shakespeare’s lines and then figuring out exactly how to communicate that to a modern audience who isn’t sitting in the audience with a dictionary and a mythology reference book.
It is important to remember, though, that Shakespeare isn’t the only classical playwright in the world and there are other plays out there that are just as bombastic, descriptive and stirring. Classical Greek playwrights like Sophocles and Aristophanes wrote comedies and tragedies about great women and men in Greek “history” who met their fate in spectacular ways – Oedipus gouging out his eyes after discovering he had murdered his father and slept with his mother, anyone? You could also take in a tragedy written by Christopher Marlowe – one of Shakespeare’s rivals who was largely considered the greatest tragedian of their time and is rumoured to have actually written Shakespeare’s plays. Or you could read a George Bernard Shaw play and luxuriate in his descriptive stage directions. There’s some pretty cool stuff out there.
On the flip side, I have a real soft spot for theatre that’s been written in the past 20-or-so years. I saw Neil Labute’s The Shape of Things when I was 16 years old and it just blew my mind that theatre could be like this. It was raw, it was immediately accessible… the lines were simple but there was so much underneath them. Like good tv, good contemporary theatre is like your life but elevated. Only the good parts are picked out. There are absolutely still epic, sprawling plays being written (and Classical works are being adapted all the time) but, as my current director put it at rehearsal last night, there is an ever growing trend in theatre of plays being written like movies – all smash cuts from one scene to the next and real life playing out right in front of your eyes. The air in the theatre is electric during the climactic scene.
Good contemporary theatre makes me feel the way every 14 year old theatre kid feels when they discover Rent for the first time.
By the way, The Shape of Things is also a film starring Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz – people tend to either love the show or think it is terribly overrated, so watch it and decide for yourself.
Collective creation – a bunch of theatre artists get together with some sort of inspiration (A vague concept? A piece of literature? A striking photograph?) and write, move and brainstorm to create a show together. There could be a cohesive storyline or it could be a serious of snapshotted moments. There could be music, dance, improvisation, projections, it could even tour through different locations. A collective creation can look like anything the creative team imagines it to look like… that’s the beauty of theatre.
My theatre company does a ton of collective creation work. I know so many beautiful, talented women, and we can never find a pre-existing show with enough good roles for ladies that speaks to us the way we want it to. So we make our own plays. Maybe they aren’t always as polished or good as The Shape of Things or A Midsummer Night’s Dream but they are ours. They are honest, they are raw, and they are genuine. And they are always getting better.
So. As always, this is not a comprehensive list, it is wildly personal, but that’s the type of theatre I do. If you ask me in person, I’ll try to give you the short version. If you ask me on the internet, I may just refer you to this blog post…
What types of theatre do you love the most? What do you wish you could see done more?