Outside the Box

This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing 3 plays. What made it different from any other weekend when I have seen a bunch of theatre is that two of the three plays were in area high schools.

The work that these young people presented was interesting and entertaining. It was done without huge budgets, but with lots of creativity and heart.

The workshop that I just finished teaching was based on creating characters and getting ready for auditions. It lacked a big final production and I was concerned that the kids wouldn’t really “get” the idea of process without the big payoff at the end.

My students presented their monologues and a few readings of scenes for their families, but we had no costumes, no sets and almost no props. My focus was on their character development and being calm in front of an audience.

When I asked them for anonymous feedback, they did not seem to miss the big production and they all felt they had grown as actors, so I felt good about my choice to go in that direction.

When I saw the two high school productions, one done with 6 white wooden boxes and half of a parachute and the other done with platforms backed with rough barn wood “walls”, I was happy to see so much emphasis on the storytelling and the characters and not so much on razzle dazzle sets or flamboyant costumes.

Sometimes I think we in the theatre do the same thing I was talking about with my girlfriends the other day at lunch. We were wondering how weddings had become such big business. We discussed how everyone has to outdo the other with longer and longer guest lists, more and more expensive dresses, larger and larger flower arrangements and fancier and fancier venues for the reception.

Tim always says that at the end of the day, no matter how much you spend or how much you show off, you are still married. For many brides it is easier to let mom and dad spend lots of money, than to be creative and do it in a new (and dare I use the word economical) way.

This is not to disparage beautiful weddings. I do love a grand wedding sometimes. But during a season a few years ago, when it seemed we went to weddings nearly every weekend, I started to get bored with basically the same wedding done over and over again, no imagination- nothing different.

Sometimes I think we get too complacent in the theatre, falling back on costumes and sets to tell the story for us. Again, don’t get me wrong. I love a big production. And I am as guilty as anyone in expecting there to be a big set and fancy costumes. But sometimes I think we fall in the trap of each production getting bigger and bigger and are almost afraid to pull back to minimalism. Sometimes it feels like we are stepping backwards if we go too simple, we feel like we have grown past putting on a show with only boxes and a bench.

This past weekend, when I saw such interesting and moving stories told so simply, I reconsidered how I wanted to approach my future projects.

Again, some pieces lend themselves to being more creative than others. But I think we can all take a step back and try to infuse our lives with more creativity and uniqueness. I think as artists we can experiment more and as people we can surround ourselves, not with what helps us keep up with the Joneses, but what might inspire us and set us apart.

I have certainly been inspired by the kids I taught this semester and by the high school theatre I saw this weekend, to think outside the box a little more every day.

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Marietta is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a BFA in musical theater. She has been performing for over 50 years on the stage and continues to perform, direct and teach. Marietta is married to Tim, has a son named Jon, and a cat named Penny.