Like no business I know
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 01:03
I saw the CU Denver production of Bitten By A Snake on Saturday night, and I enjoyed it. But it is definitely not a crowd pleaser.
The play uses ambiguous language, striking set design, and brilliant staging to portray the world of Ambrose Bierce’s storytelling of the Civil War. It’s intellectually engaging, but not all that entertaining to general audiences.
The avant-garde has its place and is great in its own regard. But, in this day and age, the sad truth is that the department should be striving to get butts into seats, not lyrically staging Brechtian interpretations of short fiction, however wonderful they may be.
When I was in high school, I did community theater. I acted in standards, like Chronicles Of Narnia, Wizard Of Oz and Annie. They didn’t change the world or shape minds, but the shows sold out and they taught the cast and crew the real language involved in putting on a show.
When you produce a show that people are familiar with, you’re held to a certain expectation and can’t muddle your way through. With something like Wizard Of Oz, you take the basic story for granted as common knowledge, and then interpret the theme, hone design elements, and craft acting choices without working from the fundamental groundwork of plot.
But with a show like Bitten By A Snake, while it is engaging, anything goes. There is a lot of learning by the cast and crew—researching what the thing is actually about—and less doing.
When an audience has to do more learning than watching, too, chances are that sales will fall flat.
Theater performance should be about the actors performing for the audience—not just individual actors’ growth.
For many universities, the ticket sales of theatrical productions are second only in revenue to ticket sales at sporting events.
Since we don’t have sports, our theater should compensate.
Don’t get me wrong—productions like Bitten By A Snake are admirable endeavors that I fully condone and enjoy. But perhaps the high concept plays can be balanced out by some crowd-pleasing musicals and mainstream comedies.