A warm good morning on this subzero, wind chilly morning! We continue to define our West Side Story production after yet another round of auditions yesterday, and I gotta say this group turned up the heat as they sang, danced and dug into scenes. “We just might fog up the rehearsal mirrors,” I thought. We’re challenging ourselves and the actors to find a personally realized approach to this familiar material. Is there a way to make the gang violence depicted, more relevant to what we know of gangs today? There is a war going on. Still going on. Fear-based racial hatred pitting one group against the other, the gang means survival. Means life. And can this play represent the disregard for life we know today typified by drive-by shootings almost nightly on the news? Gangbangers are not afraid to kill and not afraid to die. “Where do you think all this is headed? Prison or six feet under! Think about that while you’re singing ‘We’re Jets! The greatest!’”
It’s all about sticking together to survive the war. But at the same time knowing you are kidding yourself if you think you are gonna get anywhere in life. No education. No skills. No status. Dirt poor. So let’s bust some heads and keep the streets for ourselves. These kids do put on a good face, tough characters, like they are somebody and that they mean something, stand for something. And who is responsible for this happening to our children? In 1594, William Shakespeare wrote, “For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” For all its teenaged romance and star-crossed beauty, it is a cautionary tale for adults. The Bard confronts us as if to say, “Your children are killing each other. What are you doing about it?”
My, my, how times don’t change.
The importance of actors to realize the potency of finding the character they play within themselves is confirmed and reconfirmed time and again. To forgo the way it is always done and always sounds and make it one’s own voice, one’s own experience, is what shatters the cliché. Even if you’ve never been loved or never lost a love to violent murder, the actor always has empathy. Imagine how that character feels and then how you would feel if it happened to you. These stories teach us so very much about empathy within our society, our community, our country. “Do unto others…” “Walk a mile in another’s shoes…”
I sat in on rehearsal for Hairspray on Saturday evening and was knocked out by the talent and accomplishment. Director/Choreographer Amber Mak achieved full-blown production numbers in our small rehearsal space, and I nearly fell out of my seat. The energy of the singing and dancing to this feel good, upbeat Broadway musical extravaganza practically burst through the walls and raised the roof! In a completely alternate way from West Side Story, this play deals with social, cultural issues and puts a mildly subversive yet hilarious spin on desegregation a la John Waters’ 1988 film of the same name about Baltimore just before The Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That’s right…Baltimore. The same Baltimore that’ll be on the news tonight.
Love & thanks,