Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Looking at you kid

Having recently moved to rural Tasmania I have quickly learned that
one must makes ones own entertainment. There are few cultural outlets
in these small towns. Not even a cinema. So culture is mainly confined
to the library and the video shop.

Country people are therefore forced to rely on their own efforts, as
we do not get the pleasure of, for example, the TSO or Bell
Shakespeare Company coming to our little town. Into the breach steps
our own Sorell On Stage (SOS) theatre group. This is a lively group of
enthusiastic amateur thespians. Being, as my wife reminds me, an art
snob, this is not the sort of theatre I would produce, if giving the
chance. But I am only too happy to support the group. To this end I
went along to their most recent production 'Murder in Casablanca.'

This was organised with the support of the local RSL club. With the
addition of kitchen and staff, the theater group and the RSL were able
to create two evenings of dinner theatre. 

So on a crisp and damp winters end evening I went to the Sorell
Memorial Hall (SMH) to see the play, and to help out as a waiter. As
this was written and directed by a member of SOS I did not know what
to expect. 

The Sorell Memorial Hall is a pretty little building built in an art
deco style, with wide horse flanks curving away from the
street. Boasting a pretty little entrance way in the linear geometric
style favoured of the art deco, a little bit of Broadway in old Sorell

I will dispense with the bad aspects first, as they are few and are
mostly a function of being an amateur theatre group in a small
town. In all these sorts of productions the talent is not uniform. As
this play was a musical in the best of all possible worlds there would
be a small band playing to add texture and depth to the music. Alas
this is not possible. But the keyboard player was very good, and it
was nice to see his interactions with the cast. The play itself was
not so much of a narrative arc, as a skeleton on which to hang a
series of songs and set piece actions. The lighting was not used to
full effect, this is something SOS may want to concentrate on in the
future. With only a small budget for sets and costumes effective
lighting can with illumination hide a multitude of sins.

On a deeper note the plays produced are non confrontational, and do
not force the audience to engage too much with the works. There is no
Brechtian ideas of Theatre of Alienation, or Beckett absurdity, these
comments however say more about me they do of the group.

Without challenging ideas of theatre as an art form, or challenging
the audience to look at their assumptions of everyday life, in their
locally written and performed play Murder in Casablanca the group did
a good job of subverting many ideas of performance. The production was
a sort of homage to the classic movie Casablanca, and the songs of
that era, not so much a play as a series of songs hung together round
the conceit of all the women that Rick Blaine had known in his life coming
into his bar. This allowed the various lovers of Rick to tease him and
to sing songs of the film noir era, sadly resulting in the murder of Ilsa.
The director broke the convention of the proscenium arch, smashing the
illusionary window which separates audience from performer. As this was dinner
theatre and people were eating and drinking it was important to mingle with the
crowd and so keep their interest. So the play took place both on the
stage and around the stage, slowly melding and melting into the
audience. Like an old time rave when the crowd was of more interest
than the music. This was very interesting and in a word, cool.

The limitations of money and time allow for amateur theatre to stand
above the 'real', the professional. In professional theatre much of the
decisions made, and this is true for many of the professional arts,
are made for commercial reasons. Either to find a nice neutral piece
that will not offend, or for some artists a desire to offend as an end
in itself. With small town local theatre the decisions may be made due
to money issues, but they are not commercial issues, a subtle
distinction. But outside of the city art market, art can be made for
the purest reason, the greatest reason, because it is fun, and it is
what we want to do. In small town art the barrier between audience and
performer is naturally broken down. The person singing on stage one
day will then be found at the local antique shop the next
day. Everyone is a neighbour and the crowd are free to chat and mix
with the cast after the show. When is one allowed to chat and rub
shoulders with Geffory Rush after a performance in the alienating
theater market place of Melbourne, were the distinctions of artist and
plebeian are stark and unavoidable.

In all a better event than a performance, but still a fun time and
most importantly a social event, a time to get together, not to create
more distinctions. For this reason alone we should support the local
artist in the same way that we desire to support the local butcher or
bakery, as a way of turning on back on the impersonal market.

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