Theater is an art that transforms. It transforms those who participate as artists, and it transforms those who participate as audience.
I'm going to capture some of my favorite theater memories. Here is one.
It was 1999. With my troupe of young actors, I'd been seeking a performance space for our production of As You Like It. Our troupe was made up of young people from many different school districts- some from public schools, some from private schools, some homeschooled- we didn't have a home base.
We finally reached an agreement with an urban school. An inner city school. Not a school any of our troupe members attended. We could use their theater for free in exchange for performances during the day for their high school students.
Our As You Like It was set in the swing era. We had taken Shakespeare's words and set them to the music of the era, to tunes like "Jeepers Creepers" and "Minnie the Moocher" and a number of Gershwin tunes. We'd set all of the songs in the text, and several other sections, to these tunes. We ended with a big swing dance.
Our troupe had actors of all ages- the oldest actor was 18 and the youngest actors were 3 or 4 years old. Using my customary creativity, I had given the youngest, cutest actors the roles of sheep. Each time the shepherd Corin would enter, first you would hear the strains of Rossini's William Tell's Overture Call to the Cows and then in would trip (sometimes, literally, trip) three or four (sometimes one of the sheep was too afraid to come out) little kids in sheep costume, followed by the actors of the scene. The sheep would bounce about and then exit.
Okay, now it's show time.
As director/stage manager, I am out in the audience as the high school students file in. Dripping chains and leather and torn denim. Pierced. Tatooed. Shaved heads and wildly styled and dyed heads.
How is a swing-era Shakespearean pastoral comedy going to work with this group???
The opening scenes of the gentle comedy face a stony silence from the tough- or posing as tough, which could be worse- teens of the audience.
The first songs are tolerated. We think. The vast tough audience has us worried.
Then, at last, in come the sheep.
And almost as one, this tough group of a couple thousand inner city teens, coo "Awwwwww....." at the sight of the unbelievably cute sheep.
And the audience starts to laugh at the jokes.
And applaud the songs.
In fact, when the rendition of "In the springtime, the only pretty ring time" is performed to the tune of "Minnie the Moocher" a la Cab Calloway, it brings the house down. The audience demands an encore.
And the two thousand some students who were grudgingly willing to endure Shakespeare to get out of math class roar and stomp their approval of the ending swing dance and curtain call.
Hey, and a ho, and a nonny nonny no!