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Theater Story Night in America

When I was in college, there was a requirement that a minimum of two of the classes you took in your four-year academic career had to be in the arts and humanities. For an English major theater type such as myself, this minimum was practically met by getting out of bed in the morning. For other students, however, who were in more science- or business-minded programs, this requirement was harder to meet. It’s hard for me to fathom, but there were folks who couldn’t handle taking a class in the arts and humanities at all.

Fortunately for them, our theater department provided a comparatively simple way to meet the requirement. As part of the theater minor, there was a class in stagecraft, which covered the history and theory of theatrical design, with both academic work and a practical component. What that practical component meant, of course, was stage carpentry. They could fulfill the arts and humanities requirement by building the theater department’s sets.

This was an especially popular tactic for scholar-athletes, especially members of our university’s football team. The Delta Upsilon fraternity, the designated “football house” on our campus, would routinely send whole squads of football players to register for this class at once. They’d help the tech department with building sets, and the tech folks would be sure to attend all their games in gratitude. And every once in a while, there’d be show whose scenic demands were such that we’d need them as the running crew as well. Half would be in their stage blacks backstage, pushing trucks and turning turntables, while the other half would find themselves pressed into makeshift Restoration garb, as they maneuvered furniture onto the stage in view of the audience.

Football players and theater types tend to be very different sorts of people. Nevertheless, here we all were, successfully working together on these shows. We were glad to have their help. And on those rare occasions where they got a curtain call for their troubles, they’d stand alongside us, feeling a bit awkward about the whole thing, but happy to be there, goofy grins on all their faces. It felt good that, despite our many differences, we had this experience in common.

Well, within the past few months, we've learned that Shakespearean actors and football players have something else in common. Apparently, we're both trying to destroy America.

At this point, I’ve written about half a dozen blog posts and a whole short play on the subject, so you don’t need me to remind you about the Julius Caesar controversy at the New York’s Public Theater this past summer. For a few months, conservative media were denouncing that show, and theater in general, as an insult to our leaders and a disgrace to the country – never mind the Russia investigation, the debacle of the attempted ACA repeal, or anything like that. No, clearly the real issues facing our country were a bunch of actors at the Delacorte. But to every thing, there is a season, and as the chill winds of autumn finally begin to below here in my fair city, a new set of bogeymen have emerged to take the place of our beleaguered performers. Never mind the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Puerto Rico or the impending nuclear doom with North Korea – no, if there’s one thing this nation has to fear (we’re told), it’s NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality.

If we’re going to subject actors and football players to this level of scrutiny, it would be nice if we could focus on the lessons of those long-ago shows of ours. That people of different temperaments, beliefs, and backgrounds can work together. That our shared culture matters more than our differences. That together we can solve all manner of problems.

That’s probably not going to happen, though.

Instead, I expect that once the winter comes around, yet another group of highly improbably scapegoats will be found to attempt to distract us from horrors yet to come. And I’m racking my brain trying to think who else was involved in those long-ago productions, that might be next on the list of unlikely boogeymen. Adjunct professors? Costume designers? Our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream had a cameo by a local cat – will we taking a page from the Middle Ages and going after cats next?

(Crap. It’s going to be cats, isn’t it.)

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