Why People Should Spread the Joy of Theatre (AKA: Don’t Be Pretentious)

Amanda Mills

Well, I will just get right down to it: please, do not be pretentious. I love theatrical productions very much, that’s why I am majoring in theatre, however, I have very quickly noticed some unfortunate snobbery peppered throughout the community. This can be covered on several grounds but particularly in acting and (surprise surprise) viewing.

My Freshman year of college I took an intro to acting class, which already systematically makes question every choice you’ve ever made as performer but on top of that makes you read books by Uta Hagen and Richard Boleslavsky. Now, I was able to find humor in Boleslavsky’s Acting: The First Six Lessons more than some of my class-mates who were aghast by the fact that he would refer to his student as “Creature”, not thinking of the fact that it was meant in a non-offensive, even endearing back when it was written. Hagen did offer insight and even made me sympathize with her as a human being but there were things I disagreed with very much. Just a note: I am referring to her book A Challenge for the Actor not Respect for Acting. 

Now, I’m not trying to offend in possible die-hard Hagen fans who may read this but I do have to say some of her opinions were ones I disagree with. This is not to take away from the advice she gives or her experience in the theatre (remember everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so don’t kill me!) it is just an example of me recognizing some elitism. For starters, she seems to think that theatrical actors are the only true actors out there. 

While I do agree with her in way, seeing as people do become attached to certain characters and have a hard time seeing the actors/actresses portraying them as anything else. Despite that part I felt irritated, as though she thinks that television actors are commoners that are laughable as far as their skills go, like it makes them less skilled because they played a certain character for a long time. In reality many of these people worked just as hard and had to finesse the ability to be more subtle on screen, but it seems it’s easy for some to still negate their dreams of being versatile while still being able to obtain a steady paycheck. Hagen suggests that the only reason TV and movie actors got into the business was for the fame and the money rather than the craft. I don’t believe this seeing as there are many of these types of actors that are not “stars” that are still working paycheck to paycheck, I as fan of retro TV have seen certain actors appear in many different decades of shows and yet I don’t even know some their names.

This seems to be a problem with some of the people I know in theatre regardless over their own actual status, they believe they are the ultimate judge of who is a good performer or what is proper just because they have had experience acting. Generalization is rampant. You should not let one bad apple or at least in your eyes, “bad apple” spoil the bunch. Just because one person who is an outsider to the theatre does something you do not like it is unfair to suggest that it is simply because of their performing background and all people similar to them will do the same things that were apparently unseemly. This is called stereotyping and it’s wrong to do. If it is wrong to do on the basis of ethnicity, religion or lack thereof, sexual-orientation, and gender, it is also wrong to do based off of people’s experience because you perceive it to be beneath you.

Even just in the viewing of theatre-related things I see a certain level of pretention. I have read and listened to people give snobbery-filled criticisms of productions without giving any actual evidence as to what was wrong with what the performers or directors did, just giving generally vague insults. Many times it occurs when I did not notice the particular sin they committed. The thing seems to be that people, within any group not just theatre, want to be exclusive and say only certain people are good enough. That does not mean I do not believe there are performers of higher caliber than others based off of natural talent, commitment, and so on and so forth, I am saying it seems as though some people just do not want to let others in and try to find ways to make productions more prestigious so the general population will not get to enjoy them. 

I have heard people say in response to the live productions of NBC that they think instead they should broadcast live plays instead, which is often what they have done, so… Degrading live musicals with multi-camera operations is a bit odd to me for a couple of reasons: 1) a lot of hard work went into making them, work beyond most our comprehension, 2) there are staged plays/musicals, there are movies, and now multi-camera operations, they are all different types of entertainment therefore they should not be expected to all be the same. I am not saying live plays are a bad idea, wouldn’t that be nice? More stuff year-round to watch!

I have also heard people say, “Well, they are probably doing this a certain way because people who aren’t theatre-goers will be able to get it…” Well, first off how generous to let feeble-minded, uncultured folk have a show they can watch and possible enjoy, how generous. Second of all, isn’t that a good thing? If having live productions give opportunities to those who cannot afford to see a show or are not that interested in musicals all the time, shouldn’t we be happy? By doing this they are exposing more people to something we love, so then in turn more people will take an interest and love it too.

I am also a firm believer in going into something with an open mind, people who right off the bat say, “Yeah, next year they’re doing this, that should be interesting…” clearly do not like these productions very much and are under no obligation to watch, and if their argument is they are under obligation to watch because they are critics then my advice would be to give it a chance.

Like I said before, I am not saying people can’t say their opinions, I am saying my own right now, but I feel all too often responses I hear to things are kind of snobbish. I really do not think anybody should be perpetuating the stereotype that people in theatre (look how I pretentiously spell it the British way, yes I know) are walking around thinking they are grander than everyone one else. The only assumption we should be living up to is that we are creative and thoughtful people (without bragging of course because that would be counter-productive). After all, when all is said and done a lot of us are people who are working to forge our path in entertainment and we cannot further ourselves by tearing down professionals or those who are lucky enough to get a great opportunity, outside the realm of community theatre.

Some are not that great but we should not elevate ourselves by armchair-quarterbacking and doling out “critiques” that actually do not explain what is wrong other than just saying they are wrong. We want others to understand our passion and get involved in the arts, this cannot happen until everyone practices what they preach and make it actually feel like ALL are welcome.

Photo: Jason Ellis, right, leads a citizen protest in "Urinetown," a musical at the Players Theatre. DON DALY PHOTO/PROVIDED BY PLAYERS THEATRE