Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In Praise of Repertory Theatre and University Drama Departments

Bookgirl has a wonderful post about summer theatre, in her case, Shakespeare by the Sea, which makes her feel like she both lives in a major city and lives by the sea.  Actually, it takes her a drive of at least 85 minutes to get to the festive event.  I admire her spirit in making the outing an event, complete with picnic (or stop at a Hungarian bakery, if there's no time for a picnic).  This year, she brought her children, and I loved watching her children discover live theatre as I read her piece.

I've been lucky to be part of a family that nurtured our love of all sorts of performing arts, including theatre.  I still don't understand how my parents lived on one salary and afforded all the cultural events we afforded.

Of course, not all cultural events have to be expensive, do they?  It's not like we were seeing Broadway shows every week-end.  No, when we saw Broadway shows, those were the big events that usually required a trip to a different city, like Atlanta or Washington D.C.  My childhood/adolescence was back in the days when touring Broadway companies didn't come to every midsize towns, just the big ones.  Now it's different.

I remember summer as a time of repertory theatre.  I remember the University of Virginia's theatre and performing arts department presenting at least 4 plays every summer.  What a treat to go to each play and to remember the actors from their other roles.

Going out to a show felt festive.  I loved the play.  I loved the fact that we went out for frozen yogurt or ice cream afterward.  I loved that it was warm and we stayed up late and the small towns of my childhood had a different summer vibe.

I remember going to see plays at the university during the school year too, but usually as a school field trip.  When I was in high school in Knoxville Tennessee, we often went to see drama productions put on by the University of Tennessee's drama department.  We saw Shakespeare and Greek plays.  I still remember Medea with its electrifying end--it was no less electrifying for being performed by college actors.

We saw these plays for an amazingly low price, something along the lines of $5 a ticket.  Wow.  What a service the university drama department did.  I hope that they still are.

It was a symbiotic relationship.  The area schools were a built-in audience, and schools could shape their curriculum around the plays that would be presented during the school year, which they did.  It was great to study a play and then to go see it performed.

We traveled to the University of Tennessee auditoriums in big, yellow schoolbusses, but I've also heard of drama departments that travelled to area schools, another great idea.  I've also seen many examples of singing groups--some of them huge in number--who tour and travel and build up good will for universities and colleges.

I haven't heard as much about poets and writers doing similar things in huge numbers.  I know that some states sponsor Poets in the Schools kind of programs--or they did, before our current economic crisis. 

But wouldn't it be fun to do this in a more concerted, concentrated way?  We could build travelling troupes of different kinds of poets, so students would be exposed to formalist poets, experimental poets, slam poets, people who did intriguing hybrid things with their poems.  Should I ever be poet laureate, maybe that's the program I'll create.


Kathleen said...

Ooooh, traveling poets!

Shefali Shah Choksi said...

Why wait to be hte poet laureate? we could do something on our own!