Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reading Plays

Today's New York Times has an article that talks about reading plays; the bulk of the article focuses on the author's efforts to read all of the plays nominated for a Tony award tonight.

When I was young, before I wanted to be a poet, I wanted to be an actress. Oddly, I had no interest in movies or television. No, I wanted to act on stage. When we went to New York City, in 1978, I took a picture of a street sign, "Broadway" and some cross street. The city hadn't been cleaned up then. I remember 1978 New York as being scary and gritty. When I went back in 2003, I wouldn't have recognized it--it was Disneyfied.

Despite the grittyness, I had plans of coming back and conquering the city as the greatest actress to ever enchant Broadway. I was in 7th grade, in the throes of drama club. I read plays for fun. I went to the library and checked out volumes of plays. I read them to myself. I read them out loud, reading all the different parts in different voices. By high school, I had read all the great classics of world theatre. I watched the Tony awards. Luckily for me, they were always aired in the summer, so I could stay up late. I didn't care about the red carpet or what the stars wore. I made lists of what plays I needed to read. And then I read them. I was a Drama Geek of the worst sort.

I took dance classes thinking that I would enhance my marketability. I was awful at dance, but I hoped I would get better. I would have taken voice classes, if the thought of singing in front of people didn't terrify me. In retrospect, it's clear that I was not headed to showcasing a musical, even if I had memorized all of the music from the great American musicals (I sang alone, in my room, practicing, as I listened to the original cast recordings, over and over again).

I don't regret that passion. It's served me well. During my graduate studies, I didn't have as much catching up to do in the drama genre as my peers. And my tendency towards theatrical flamboyance has kept me interesting as a teacher. Students don't sleep in my classes unless they're REALLY exhausted--there's simply too much energy in the room.

But I haven't kept up with the theatre world the way I once did. My friend's daughter is into drama, and so she keeps me informed to the best of her ability. But as I read the New York Times article this morning, I thought, I could do this. Four plays should be manageable.

Of course, I wish that I would force myself to go out and see more live theatre. When we first moved to South Florida, I had colleague friends who routinely flew to New York for culture week-ends. I had dreams of doing that. I still do.

But, in the meantime, I can rekindle my early adolescent love. I can read more plays. It's less of a time commitment than reading novels, a goal which I'm only having middling success this year. They're portable (and weigh less than a novel). And a play that's been nominated for a Tony award is less likely to disappoint than novels that have been nominated for awards--some of those novels are just downright incomprehensible. And I wrote my M.A. thesis on James Joyce, so I'm used to dealing with difficult literature.

Drama is an overlooked genre that provides so many delights. I look forward to returning to it.

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