By Sawyer Shafer
THEATRE IS CURRENTLY ON FIRE!
Yes, you read that right. Where most would say theatre is currently under fire, I prefer to say it is ON fire. Don't get me wrong - there is such thing as being controversial for the sake of controversy. However, with the recent comments from the cast of Broadway's smash hit Hamilton: An American Musical to Vice President Elect Mike Pence, I believe that a very important debate (that seemed long lost) has been reignited: What is the true purpose of art?
With the influx of reality television and children's shows based on the idea that everyone can be famous in recent years, we as a nation were simply allowing the concept of artistic integrity to slip away from us; trading in the age old test of "What do we want to achieve with this?" for the more simple-minded "Will we make money from this?" And yes, while money is an undeniable necessity in the current worldwide system of values, most artists know that money does not buy happiness - following your passion does. Now perhaps you are of the mindset that this mantra is harmful or downright ridiculous, which is fine, but I encourage you to examine the contents of my wallet and my weekly earnings next to the smile that is on my face after each and every production I have contributed to, then tell me where my happiness lies.
I digress. My point is that, in this age of uncertainty, is the purpose of art to entertain, or is the purpose of art to analyze and satirize?
My opinion? Why can't it be both? Here at Sansami, our sketch comedy oozes with satire and analytical subtext, yet people have turned out to Spotlight! year after year for one simple reason: Each year, we make them laugh a little bit more. So yeah, your theatre should have a strong message, and that message should be obvious to those in the audience, but your message will never reach the masses if you first do not first aim to entertain your audience and relate to them.
Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing a workshop presentation of an up-and-coming musical entitled Home Street Home at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. While I have never lived on the street, suffered physical harm at the hands of authority figures, or attempted to define what kind of "punk" I am, the production hooked me first by simply being entertaining and having some catchy tunes. After accepting the fact that I was entertained, I suddenly found myself engulfed in Sue's world. No longer was I a passive audience member simply responding approvingly, but instead I was invested in if Sue's mother was ever going to find her, why Nosmo wouldn't buy new strings for his guitar, and if PD and Big John were ever going to reconcile their feelings for each other. Why did I like that? I asked myself later. But the answer was so clear: Because someone was responding to the idea of what it is like to live on the fringe, daring to be different, and wondering it the world was going to accept you. And isn't that what theatre is about? Having the integrity to stand up and say, "Hey, I may be different, but this is what I think. Will you hear me out, let me share it with you, and then have a conversation with me about it? Please?" I think it is.
There is an interesting road ahead. There is fire in the theatre and in the mind of every single person in this line of work. Maybe it's born out of anger, fear, worry, or perhaps it's born out of a hope for unity, conversation, and safety. Whatever the cause, the match has been struck and the scene is about to explode. Just you wait.
Where do you stand? I make no assumptions of what is right or what is wrong, nor do I believe political affiliation should influence the theatre in a negative way. We should not aim to target or exclude, but instead pinpoint and acknowledge the problems or solutions that exist in the world around us. Only then does our art truly have integrity and only then can we say we have discovered the true purpose of our art.
Thank you for reading.
By Sawyer Shafer
As our production of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby comes to a close, I find myself in a very interesting state of mind. We took what many of us considered a huge risk this summer, and (*knocks on wood because we still have one more performance*) the feedback has been extremely positive. Which left me with one thought as we round out this incredible summer here at SCW: What comes next?
I firmly believe that we cannot repeat our actions of this summer. Don't get me wrong, this summer has been an excellent learning experience, and we are pleased that we were able to enrich the lives of so many wonderful people from the surrounding area, whether it be through our comedy in Spotlight! or our dramatic recounting of the spirit of the 20's through The Great Gatsby. However, in order to truly move forward in theatre innovation and creation, we cannot view this summer as our ultimate moment of success. Instead, this is the inception of what's to come. We must run faster and stretch out our arms farther, until one fine morning we find ourselves at our destination, having reached our ultimate goal. And then, after we catch our breath, we must start running once again, always forward, onto the next goal.
This is why I cannot say what comes next. Can people speculate? Absolutely. Can it be assumed that a newer, better version of Spotlight, Tonight! will take the stage in the Summer of 2017? Perhaps. But as we move forward, we must not stall. One must not allow themselves to be in awe of their accomplishments of their past, or they may end up never truly successfully completing their next goal. So we begin our next phase - the official launching of the Creative Works Department. A place where artists and innovators, writers and creators, anyone and everyone can come and create in a space that supports their art, their ideas, and their ultimate goals. All the while, we plan; we find what we, the troupe that takes the stage for you tonight, can hope to accomplish next, as we encourage others to explore their own mind for their sense of creative enlightenment.
And perhaps, some day, we may revisit the past. But for now, we beat on, boats taken by the current, carried forward into the future.
Thank you for reading.
By Sawyer Shafer
There is something to be said for a timeless tale coming to life onstage. I truly believe that everyone in my line of work has a story they would like to tell more than any other. For me, this story was - and is - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. At first, I found it hard to explain what drew me to this tale of love, deception, and lust. When I read the book for the first time in high school, others around me truly seemed to hate it. I'll admit, even I wasn't praising the book until about the end of the fourth chapter, but I was unable to put the book down from that point on! What was it that drew me into this magnificent and extravagant world full of tarnished people?
The Great Gatsby was to me, at that moment, what the green light is to Mr. Jay Gatsby himself. It's this unobtainable narrative that, once truly captured, you're reluctant to let go of. This (now) Jazz Age-old tale has become a cornerstone for reflecting on, and attempting to repeat the past. Most of all, in its prime, Gatsby was an experiment in self-reflection. F. Scott Fitzgerald used this tale to hold a mirror up to society and say, "Look at what we're doing to each other! Look at what you're doing to yourselves!" And yet we praise the Roaring Twenties! We beg and we wish to be engulfed in the everlasting, enigmatic twenties.
So that is what we here at Sansami plan to do with our presentation of this story.
Our production of The Great Gatsby is just as much of an experiment in the expression of our art as the novel was when Fitzgerald took it to print. In some shape or form, each and every one of our performers currently faces the challenge of doing something they've never done before; from the leading ladies who have never led, to the featured actors who wind up dead, this production is full of firsts for not only our audience, but the entire cast and crew as well. Through integrated audience movement, it is our intention that you will be immersed in the story as it is spun by Nick Carraway (Zane Woodruff), and that, when all is said and done, you too will believe in the green light.
Please make no mistake, this production is an experiment. To my knowledge, no local performance has ever put such a spin on any performance piece. That's why we're doing it - here and now - August 4th thru 6th. Much like Mr. Fitzgerald's narrator, we here at Sansami find ourselves in uncharted territory, and we hope that you will join us in this endeavor, as our companion and our confidant.