Sunday, June 13, 2010

Before I Was a Poetry Geek, I Was a Theatre Geek

I did not originally plan to be an English major, a Ph.D. in British Lit, a Composition teacher, a poet, or Chair of a Department. No, I originally planned to be a star on Broadway. Yes, as early as seventh grade, I was reading the great classics of the theatre world. I read my way through Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Tennessee Williams. Since I planned to be a star on stage, I would choose one of the parts and read it out loud. If I made the mistake of choosing a minor character, I switched roles. I thought about how I would stage the productions. I thought about costumes. I spent many of my waking hours dreaming of theatre.

Even before seventh grade, I was writing plays and puppet shows. My mother graciously donated old clothes for our dress up trunk. My family went to real, live drama on a regular basis. We supported community theatre and university groups, and every so often, we made the trip from Montgomery to Atlanta (and later, the trip from Charlottesville to Washington, D.C.) to see Broadway touring groups. By the time we moved to Knoxville, there were more touring groups hitting more midsize towns, so we didn't have to make as much effort.

My big theatre memories of the 70's are Godspell (the first play I remember seeing, when I was in the second grade) and A Chorus Line. My sister and I memorized every song, and once we saw the shows, we acted out scenes.

It was only later that I realized what a unique childhood/adolescence I had. While some kids played sports or got stoned, I devoted myself to theatre. I didn't dream of being a movie star. I was very clear on the superiority of live theatre to any other manifestation.

As I got older, I joined school drama clubs and acting troupes for teenagers. I was always happily surprised to see how our school drama groups included many types of people who wouldn't socialize otherwise: jocks and chorus people worked side by side to put on a show, along with the punk rock crowd, people with learning disabilities, new kids, and general misfits. I'm fairly sure that other groups (like, say, the football team) didn't experience this.

I've had this on the brain as I've been watching Glee. Even though those kids have devoted themselves to song, their world feels familiar.

I gave up on my Broadway dreams for many reasons, not the least of which was that I had no self-confidence in my singing, and I couldn't stand to dwell in my body long enough to become a good dancer. I've often been struck, though, by how often I use the skills I developed as a teenage drama geek. Much of my teaching has involved reading texts out loud, and I'm good at it. Much of my teaching has required a certain theatricality to keep students interested; I'm really good at that.

I haven't been an administrator long enough to know which theatre geek skills will translate into this arena. The ability to keep my face passive? Well, I suspect I still haven't mastered that skill. Stay tuned.

I have these thoughts on the brain because of tonight's Tony Awards. When I was a teenager, I would have stayed up late, watching and studying. Tonight, I won't.

For those of you interested in the generational aspect of musical theatre, how enthusiasm comes and goes in generational waves, I refer you to this article on the Glee generation. Great fun. And for those of you still keeping up with the New York theatre scene, you probably won't need to read this article about tonight's musical theatre awards. For those of you raising young drama geeks and wondering which touring shows to see, it might be useful.

Maybe I will watch the Tony Awards after all. I, too, need to plan my theatre going. I've been away too long.

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