Am I doing my part for theatre on this campus?
I ask this because of the impressive auditions turnout for Educational Theatre Company and Women In Learning and Leadership’s upcoming performance of The Vagina Monologues. I saw no posters for the auditions (although I know they were made, so maybe I just didn’t catch them on the walls) and received only one e-mail about them which disclosed no location, and they took place the second and third days of this semester, when everyone was just returning to campus.
Yet more people came out for these auditions than for All College Theatre’s Lend Me A Tenor auditions, and had about the same number of hopefuls for our One-Acts. Why?
And keep in mind that only women audition for The Vagina Monologues—both guys and girls had vivid Mel Evans-created posters jockeying for their affection for ACT shows, and yet we’re not as popular.
Part of me doesn’t want it to be a popularity contest. Right after my castmates and I sweated blood for tiny audiences attending The Lion In Winter, I attended a standing room only performance of ETC’s Bang Bang You’re Dead; more people came to that one showing than all the nights of Lion In Winter. Yet it’s driving me mad that there are actors and audiences out there that are seemingly out of my reach.
But at the same time, I don’t feel I would be doing my part if I took the path of my friend John, who is the mastermind behind ETC. Both Bang Bang and The Vagina Monologues (Please resist all “Bang Bang Your Vagina” jokes.) have unique (and free) production requirements, and both come to set agendas as they entertain. But I found Bang Bang‘s alarmist, uninsightful rhetoric revolting each time I read it. Even John’s flawless (and most importantly human) direction couldn’t shake me of the feeling that the whole play was a dishonest experience. I want large, interested crowds, but I don’t want to feed them something I’d feel was poisoning them. I felt bad enough during the shockingly mechanical, manipulative Lend Me A Tenor; though the play wasn’t pushing any social agenda, it was numbing the crowd to its market-tested laughs, making genuine response harder to muster.
I haven’t read through all of The Vagina Monologues, and I doubt I’ll find it quite so objectionable (though it does seem condescending to all “square”, non-NYCentric women), and so far I think it can intelligently cater to an audience here at TCNJ. Yet (cause I’m a guy!) I wouldn’t feel comfortable serving in any sort of role of vaginal authority, as John is. I am serving as chauffer to my starring-role girlfriend, so there’s a start. Hopefully I’ll get a mention in the playbill.
I guess part of this confusion is that other agendas and issues drive the ETC productions. You’d come to Bang Bang because you’re interested in school violence, to The Vagina Monologues because you’re interested in Women in Afghanistan, but not to Romeo and Juliet because you’re interested in gang warfare. I want the audiences that come because they want theatre, primarily. They have to love the way the ideas are exchanged just as much as or more than the ideas themselves. I think ACT provides that wonderfully, and just wish we had a new infusion of audience members to prove it.