Sunday, February 12, 2012

In praise of college theater

I saw three plays this past week, which might be a record for me. First was Pride and Prejudice at LSU, then Eiffel Tower Revisited, also at LSU, then Anton in Show Business at Loyola (which David and I dragged ourselves to NOLA in frigid weather despite having irritating colds to see - and it was totally worth it!).

Since all of these plays were on college campuses, with casts comprised mostly, or totally, of students, I've been thinking about some aspects of college theater that I think are pretty cool - despite the occasional presence of what David calls "studenty acting."

1. Cross-gender and generally non-traditional casting. It's so much more fun (and educational) for an actor to play characters different outside of their own age and gender. In college, you get a chance to do this. Thankfully, new plays are beginning to reflect the reality that there are lots of women and people of color in theater (and, um, in the world), but so many of the "classics" offer few female parts. Solution: let the women play male parts. They can do it - they're actors. Also, give the audience some credit. Their brains are capable of processing, say, a 20 year old playing another 20 year old's mother, or siblings of different races. I promise.

2. Experimentation. Sure, sometimes it goes horribly wrong, but it's still better than recycling the same tired shows over and over. Colleges can afford to experiment, because they're not beholden to certain demographics of season ticket holders like a lot of professional theaters can be. In fact, they can put on just about anything they like, and have an instant audience of students who are required to see the show because they're taking a theater course. Ha.

3. Budget. Okay, I know theater departments never have enough money. They're underfunded, etc. But they still have lots more money than a lot of community theaters and small theater companies. That means you get great sound and light boards to fiddle around with, and good costumes and sets. You also don't have to scramble for backstage crew, because that's yet another thing you can require of students taking a theater course! Ha. Ha.

4. Energy. There's nothing like excited, eager, not-yet-jaded college students to breathe some life into a show. I love working with college students because they love to work! In fact, they're often so happy to be cast in a show that they (gasp!) show up for rehearsal! And sometimes they even (gasp!) learn their lines well before dress rehearsal! And there are moments, from the audience, when you can feel this excitement, this pure joy of discovery, crackling like electricity through the air. It's hard to be a cynical old theater person when that happens.

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