Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wonderful Way to Spend a Sunday Afternoon

Usually on Sunday afternoons I am reading and listening to jazz or classical music, or watching an old movie on TV. The kids are with friends and seldom in the house.  In essence we are all off in different directions.   Last Sunday we did something different.  We went to a play at the Market House Theater.  It was a comedy called “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare:  Abridged.”  Yes, it is a comedy.

Please allow me to offer some background.  I am not much of a comedy fan and really don’t know much about Shakespeare.  My exposure to Shakespeare’s plays is very limited. In summary it goes back to my college days when we would go to Shakespeare in the Park in Fort Worth, Texas.  Every summer a comedy and drama would be performed for free in a local park.  Courtesy of Netflix I watched several of Lord Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare performances produced in the 1940s and 1950s. Lord Olivier’s productions were serious plays with serious themes. 

 A word about the Market House Theater.  Market House Theater (MHT) is a unique playhouse. It does adult and child theater, and offers numerous classes.  MHT produces comedies and dramas.  My family and I have been to numerous productions and every play is a treat.  The staging, acting, and set designs are outstanding.  If you want an example of a stellar local playhouse, MHT is what you would come up with.  (Disclosure note:  My wife works part time for MHT and we have several close friends that serve on the board and/or act in plays).  This does not change my opinion.

My son, my wife, a good friend, and I went to the play.   We saw a few friends at the theater (you just have to love the way that sounds).  My daughter did not go, she was not feeling well.  I laughed, a lot. Shakespeare abridged requires only 3 actors, but they do the work of a large ensemble cast.  Each actor had a dresser backstage.  In essence, the play covers many of Shakespeare’s greatest works in 2 (yes, 2) hours.  These three men gave my family, my friend and me a wonderful afternoon. 

This essay is really about family and children growing up.  When our kids were younger, we would go see children plays. They were well done, but not overly stimulating.  The kids loved it and that was the reason to go. You shared their joy and enthusiasm.

Now, my son is 16, he studied a couple of Shakespeare plays in high school. He laughed almost as much as I did.  It is rewarding to share an adult play with your child and hear him laugh.  He laughs because he thinks it is funny and not because everybody else is laughing.  We shared several humorous moments.

I have given this a lot of thought; it occurred to me that when my family watches a movie we do not get the same effect as a live play.  I am not sure, but I seldom laugh as much at a movie as I do a play. (Airplane and Monty Python and the Holy Grail are the exceptions).   I think you experience a bonding moment, but I cannot easily describe it. Perhaps it is because plays do to have distractions like phones or computers (or my Kindle).  Perhaps it is the live aspect of a play.  Perhaps at a play you see firsthand how hard actors work.  When you watch a movie at home you can stop it, wait for a commercial or text. When you go to movie plex you can get up to get refreshments and I have seen kids texting.  Of course in my family takes a diplomat to determine a movie we all can agree to.

I could be on to something about live productions.  To this day my daughter remembers seeing the Rockets in New York City several years ago.  She may vaguely remember a movie we saw during the same time.  However, her Rockets experience is vivid.  It also reminds me of the time I took her to Swan Lake in Columbia, SC.  She stared at the stage throughout the entire production. Now I thought she had a bad time. My wife told me she was intensely watching.  My entire family thoroughly enjoyed Spamalot (based on Monty Python materials).  We saw it twice. My son and I are Pythonites.  My wife and daughter enjoyed the play.  We saw it in St. Louis and talked about it on the way home.

Just remember the last time you went to a movie.  It appears to me most movies today are shown in a large multi-screen theater. This theater can house 8 or more screens. It is loud, crowded and somewhat detached.  You go to the ticket takers when the name of your movie is called (like a cattle call). People rush to get the best seats.  The refreshments are expensive.  In fairness, some productions are destined for the big screen. Movies that come to mind are Star Wars, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, and Airplane to name a few. It is not a highly personal experience.   Several movies rely on special effects.  By and large most movies, in my opinion, are designed for an almost pure entertainment purpose.  In fact, family members can go to separate movies and meet in the lobby when it ends. 

Contrast this to a play. At the theater seats are reserved. You have an usher to help you to your seat. You have an intermission and can mingle with family and friends in the lobby. Nothing feels rushed or hurried. It can be a calming experience.  I even dress better when I go to a play (no tennis shoes).  A play is dependent on good dialogue, acting and directing. Sets add to the story. No second takes.   A good play will stimulate thought and conversation.

I am very grateful to the MHT staff and volunteer actors. MHT offers a highly enjoyable and different entertainment opportunity.   Family members have the chance to ask each other what was the best part of the play.  It is amazing how similar the answers are and how different. 

Plays are more expensive, but well worth the money.  If you have a choice between a movie and a play, I suggest you occasionally go to the play.  You may have a memory building (as my wife calls it) experience with your kids.

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