Blog entries categorized under Digital Blogs

The Beautiful Game

Posted by RainbowJude
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on Sunday, 16 March 2008
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It seems that The Boys in the Photohraph, the revised (and rather lamely renamed) version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton's The Beautiful Game will open in South Africa in 2010. Of course, it's in Johannesburg and I'm pretty sure I won't be willing to fork out nearly R1000 in airfare plus R280 for a ticket to go and see it...

I wondered for a while why on earth we would have such an odd choice for a theatrical production - the show has an interesting concept, but not much going for it in terms of music, lyrics or storytelling - until I realized this was supposed to be tied in with South Africa hosting the Soccer World Cup.

The article, which appears on the Johannesburg Civic Theatre website, includes the following "eye-roll" quotes:

The musical is set in Belfast, Ireland, between 1969 and 1972, but could just as easily be set in Kosovo, Beirut, Jerusalem or the South Africa of not so many years ago. The themes of THE BOYS IN THE PHOTOGRAPH are universal: all over the world, communities are challenged by hatred.... Whether Catholic or Protestant, whether black or white, no child was ever born to hate.... Audiences have risen to their feet, cheering, screaming and tearful as the game of soccer - the ballet of soccer - is recreated on stage with some of the most originally exciting choreography ever seen in musical theatre. And South Africa will rise to its feet nightly at the Nelson Mandela Theatre to celebrate its triumphs, its sport, its youth... and its creative abilities.

Is it really necessary to draw the parallels as if we are all idiots? Is it really necessary to use such blatantly obvious and emotive marketing propaganda? I guess so, if the producers really want to justify their production. If they really wanted to celebrate our country's creative abilities, wouldn't it be a better idea to commission a new piece of South African theatre?
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"There's only this..."

Posted by RainbowJude
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on Friday, 21 December 2007
in Digital Blogs
Yes, it's been a while since my last blog and I guess that does compromise the flow of things somewhat. But I'd still like to wrap up my thoughts about RENT before I move onto the next musical of the many that spin around in my mind. At any rate, I reached the point where I think I became more receptive to the show - having moved out of the realms of academia three years ago, perhaps I was less reliant on intellect and more open to a more visceral experience of RENT.

So I went along to see the South African production of the show, along with a group of thirty-odd girls from the school where I teach. Now let's face it, the staging of the show has more than a handful of effective moments: the post-funeral fight between the main characters, the cluster of "Christmas Bells" carolers complete with rude hand gestures, the stunning journey of Mimi from her apartment down to Roger's loft in "Out Tonight", the table dance in "La Vie Boheme" and - most of all - the line up that is first seen in "Seasons of Love" and which is reprised to devastating effect after Angel's death.

But there are problems with the staging - notably, the whole seems less than the sum of its parts. Partly this has to do with the often aliening manner in which the cast is directed in its relationship to the audience. On one hand, the staging is presentational, like a concert, confronting the audience with the world the show represents. On the other, there are purely representational scenes and these are woodenly staged in a faux-realistic style that just excludes the audience. After all, this is live theatre - there is no camera to allow us focus into something we can't see. And that is a problem, I think, for an audience member who isn't familiar with the show's lyrics: RENT is convoluted, you have to listen to know what's going on and this kind of staging doesn't encourage you to connect with the show. This is dangerous is a show that is, in some senses, all about making connections.

I also felt that the multimedia aspects of the show weren't really successful - particularly the climactic film sequence floundered in this production - and the design, with the multi-purpose sculpture as its central feature, doesn't seem to maximize the use of space on the stage and indeed obscures some the action that occurs further upstage.

So why, with all of these problems, did I see the show three times? Because the experience confirmed my feelings that the primary problems of RENT have more to do with Michael Grief's staging concept (handled here in the hands of original cast member Anthony Rapp) for the show than with Jonathan Larson's text for the show. Yes, Larson's work has its problems - the clarity of the narrative, some dodgy lyrics and so forth - but what lies at the centre of the piece is a heart that beats passionately. The show truly does make you look at your life because there's a bit of you in each of the characters: in Mimi's sexuality, in Roger's insecurity, in Maureen's passion, in Mark's neurosis, in Joanne's conviction, in Collins' subversiveness and in Angel's profound love for his friends, for life and for every moment. That's what makes me love RENT in spite of everything: after a decade, when I am far away from the literal experiences of these characters there is still a message about how you measure your life. Second for second, there's no day but today and - if you'll forgive the sentiment and the idealism - that day is better lived when you love and you let yourself be loved in return.
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"There may have been one teeny tiny spark..."

Posted by RainbowJude
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on Thursday, 13 December 2007
in Digital Blogs
So how does one get from a place where you have such strong critical opinions of something to a place where you can still love it for what it is? It's not through a process of trying; at least not in this case. With RENT having fallen in my estimation, I put the show to the back of my mind. In any event, there were other things with which I had to concern myself: the writing of my thesis musical, House of Shadows, as well as the small problem of finding work after graduation.

Then, in 2005, a film version of RENT was released. A monumental flop overseas, the film was on general release in South Africa for a week in 2006 with a few more screenings at that year’s "Out in Africa" film festival. Now the film is no masterpiece by any means. Poor direction mars several sequences in the film and the pace is sacrificed in the decision to make the narrative more accessible for people who don’t like to listen to lyrics in musicals. There are also some bad choices in the adaptation - setting the film in 1989 and the over-simplification of the plot for example. But there are some great ideas – the contextualisation of “Take Me or Leave Me” and the easy fall into dance during the “Santa Fe” subway sequence, for example – and the cast is passionate about the performances they’re delivering and the story they’re telling.

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"You're what you own..."

Posted by RainbowJude
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on Tuesday, 11 December 2007
in Digital Blogs
During the time I spent reading for my Honours degree in Drama a dramaturg came to work with the theatre-making students on campus. Although I was not directly involved with any of the projects she co-ordinated, I attended her seminar on dramaturgy during which she mentioned the case of Lynn Thompson, a dramaturg who had worked on RENT, as an example of how difficult it was to prove ownership of material when in this enabling role. Apparently, Thompson felt she deserved more credit (and royalties) for her contributions to the show.

I went to the library to scour through the RENT book that, until this point, had been one of my primary resources in my study of the show. On the shelf was a new book by Sarah Schulman entitled: Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America.

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To RENT

Posted by RainbowJude
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on Monday, 10 December 2007
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What follows is an extract from my paper, regarding the representation of homosexual identities and relationships in Broadway musicals. This extract deals with the issues that come to light in RENT.

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"To faggots, lezzies, dykes, cross dressers too"

Posted by RainbowJude
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on Monday, 10 December 2007
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So it's 2002, the start of my Honours year. I'm studying Drama at UCT and I'm 23 years old. I've been out for about 6 months - I haven't told my parents yet - and I'm fascinated by the idea of gay culture and the fact that there is are whole communities of gay people out there in the world. It's time to choose the topic for my research paper and so I choose to look at my great passion in life, musical theatre, through a pair of eyes from which a pair of claustrophobic lenses have been ripped and settle on a topic: "Homosexual Representation in the Broadway Musical: the development of homosexual identities and relationships from Patience to RENT".

As can be deduced from the title, this paper comprised of a series pieces of textual analysis placed against the context of the time period in which each of the selected musicals (Patience, Lady in the Dark, Hair, A Chorus Line, La Cage aux Folles, RENT) was originally produced. What was I looking for? Some kind of validation, I suppose. I say this because my analysis in this paper focused on the developmental aspect of homosexual representation through these six musicals; in retrospect, I don't believe I was critical enough of the shortcomings that presented themselves. Certainly, it is interesting at this time to revisit what I wrote about RENT, which I said offered "less superficial challenges to the heterosexual hegemony within the Broadway musical". I suppose it does - but there are other issues at play here, which I will explore after this little trip into the recesses of my academic mind.

I shall post an extract from the "to RENT" part of my essay in a separate entry. Reading through it again, I think perhaps I wasn't as uncritical as I remember but I do think that because of my own agenda at the time, the nature of my criticism didn't confront the inherent narrative and representational problems within the piece, partly because my understanding of these issues wasn't yet fully embracing or complex and partly because I wasn't ready to delve deep into any possible flaws in something that offered me so much validation in my personal journey. But "you'll see, boys" - everything changes with time.
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The Soul of a Young Man

Posted by RainbowJude
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on Sunday, 09 December 2007
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So I've been thinking about the first time I encountered RENT. It would have been midway through the year when the Tony Awards were screened on MNET - a ceremony the channel has now abandoned - on which the cast performed "Seasons of Love" and a truncated version of "La Vie Boheme".

Now to contextualise my experience of seeing that performance on TV... I come from a not-so-little town where everything Conventional is celebrated. So being 18 years old and hearing a song that mentions "bisexuals, trisexuals, homo sapiens, carcinogens, hallucinogens, men, Pee Wee Herman" and which celebrates "days of inspiration, playing hooky, making something out of nothing" and "going against the grain" - well, it certainly sticks in your mind.

Buying cast recordings of musicals in my not-so-little hometown was also a something of a mission. Unless you were looking for "The Sound of Music", "Phantom of the Opera" or one of the other great popular classics, it was rare to find what you were looking for. And this was way before I had access to the Internet or even knew that you could buy just about any CD you wanted from Amazon. So imagine the joy of finding the original cast recording of RENT in a small independent music store - I was ecstatic! And I rushed home to listen to a couple of hours of immensely engaging music.

So what did it mean to me? RENT told me that were was a world waiting outside of the place you grew up. A world where you had the choice to experience anything you were willing to take on. RENT made me realise that your friends can also be your family. And RENT told me that being yourself was all right. Not that any of this translated into an immediate change in my behaviour or lifestyle - indeed, these are all things I still confront more than a decade later. But this story, to a young man, meant a chance to escape. And I do believe that if you want to experience something, if you want to achieve something, that you have to be able to visualise it first.

Over the next few years, RENT would remain present in my life: I remember painting sets with the music blaring in the background, trying to figure out what it was that Maureen did during "Over the Moon" and watching friends perform extracts for various practical exams. Things would change when I graduated and moved away from home to study for an Honours degree in Drama; with my critical claws sharpened and a lot of conventional baggage discarded, the time came when I began to re-evaluate what I had once accepted without question....
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Everything is RENT

Posted by RainbowJude
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on Saturday, 08 December 2007
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What is it about RENT? I’ve loved it, disdained it, watched it, been moved by it, been left cold by it, left it behind, returned to it and loved it all over again. I’ve sat for hours with the CD analysing the score, read books about the show, even written papers about it during my post-graduate studies in musical theatre – all in the hope that the secret of my tumultuous relationship with RENT will be revealed.

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