Bat Boy: The Musical
Directed by John Schmor
Our American Musical history is the product of great poverty and war, telling us to “hope” against experience, or sometimes engaging the best in us to encounter the worst in us. Our musicals offer songs in the face of our racism, songs butting the old puritan principles up against romance, offering unhinged fantasy, hoping nuns can thwart Nazis,or puppets can open a school for monsters, and always always immigrants can sing to each other (and dance!) to bridge their rivalries. In all these ways, BAT BOY is a traditional musical, or maybe a musical about the tradition, askant. Our musicals often propose every good boy gets his good girl, and all will be well because the “town” can sing in unison. Indeed, the American Musical, despite its best intentions, often makes an odd reach to “universals” manufactured by gross social inequity. And yet the sheer frivolity of the musical is, I believe, also an important measure of resistance to our own misery index. When a musical sings both of our delights and of the things we socially deny, it’s no wonder the form remains so potent, despite its improbable conventions. Listen to any musical and it will sing: we know these days are troubled – we know something is changing – we know love is both a blessing and a problem (ending tragically or comically – doesn’t matter so long as the duets are good). Perhaps most important, the musical reminds us we know hope rises AND hope falls, and that’s why we need more often to sing and dance, not just to “get by,” but to enlarge the imagination’s capacity for that next good reason to hope. BAT BOY was among the first post-Sondheim musicals to critique its own place, its own merit, in queer honesty about its own lies and ties to this marvelous tradition. I love this show, set in Hope Falls, West Virginia, for its willfully queer carnival of American bigotries facing eccentricity. I love it for its witty embrace of the full range of the American Musical tradition, its camp willingness to start from a tabloid pleasure that risks thwarting that tradition for the sake of weird delight. You have to want to take the ride here – no promise but weird delight. God knows we’ve had enough weird dismay lately.
Love your bat boy.
Awake & Sing!
Directed by Damond Morris
Awake and Sing! was written for the Group theatre in 1935 and takes place during the winter of 1933 and 1934. Considered by many ‘the worst hard times’ of the Great Depression, the years saw 25 percent unemployment, violent labor clashes and strikes, and food riots across the U.S.. Without the safety net of unemployment insurance, families like the Bergers had to fend for themselves. Families were stacked like cord-wood in tiny rundown apartments or thrown into the streets of New York to face the cold winter in Hoovervilles erected in Central Park. Lines for soup kitchens stretched around city blocks and for many starving in the streets and trying to find a job, all hope seemed lost. The stock exchange was stagnated following the 1929 collapse, home foreclosures were on the rise, and a do-nothing Congress was afraid to act. In this wake, a presidential candidate running on the platform of hope, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was elected.
As a scholar of the Great Depression, I am troubled by archival information that echoes economic and social challenges facing American families today. The Bergers are a lower middle class family struggling to pay rent in a rundown apartment that turns off the heat at 10pm in the middle of winter. They live on the financial edge, with Myron and Ralph lacking the possibility of ‘advancement’ and taking cuts at the clothing factory to keep their jobs. This is not unlike families today that are financially strapped, holding down two or three part-time jobs to make ends meet. Bessie’s worst fear of the family thrown to the street is a fear families in Eugene—and around the nation—experience every day. Awake and Sing! resonates.
Moving Awake and Sing! into production has been a road of discovery for everyone involved. Clifford Odets original script, I Got the Blues, incorporated far more Jewish custom than the Broadway script on which our production is based. Odets re-worked the script to appeal to a Broadway audience, and in doing so defined the tension between first and second generation Americans. The intergenerational conflicts between Jacob/ Bessie, and Bessie/ Ralph gave a historic context of Americans attempting to enter and hold on to ‘the middle class’. This conflict defines, identifies and separates each successive generation, and it is the acknowledgement of intergenerational difference that contributes to our country’s character.
I would like to thank the faculty of the Theatre Arts Department for the opportunity to bring this story to you. I hope in these trying times that the Bergers experience can place your struggle in perspective. May security bless your family. Shalom.
Directed by Theresa May
Chances are, you read Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible in school; perhaps you or a member of your family played a role. Maybe you’ve been to Salem, Massachusetts, or maybe your parents or grandparents remember the House on Un-American Activities Committee ( HUAC) and the Senate’s McCarthy hearings. Perhaps you have relatives who were brought up before the committee and accused of being “un-American” or who were asked to “name names.” Those of us who think of theatre as our family can name many playwrights, actors, and artists, who, like Arthur Miller, suffered under the run-away power of Joe McCarthy. Producing this play in 2012 invokes all this history and more – from the horrorific witch-hunts of the late 16th century, to the persecution and genocide of indigenous people, to justification of slavery and institutionalized racism; from the persecutions of Jews and gays, to the anti-immigration and anti-Arabic rhetoric in our own time – scapegoating is neither new nor unique in our common history.
Even as we look back, or look around in our society, one thing is for certain: scapegoating is always personal. It is personally executed, and personally felt. While “mob” mentality may have driven lynchings in the American south during the last century, and while a government policy of genocide drove Native people from their homelands, day-to-day actions and enforcements are always rooted in individual decisions by men and women of conscience, even if they choose not to use that conscience. Most of you may remember this play as a story of a man who refuses to name his friends (who are falsely accused), and ultimately dies for it. The Crucible is a Civic Myth, a hero’s tale. Circumstances send an ordinary man on a quest for his own soul and the soul of his community. As the play progresses, his quest increases in difficulty and risk, but also in revelation. Ultimately, his most profound discovery is his own goodness.
This play is also the story of 18 other people. Their stories are equally important for the ways in which they demonstrate what is possible in our own time when our civic and social lives are often infected by fear, power, and infatuation. The Crucible is a warning not only about the kind of mob-think that allowed the McCarthy hearings to proceed, but about the small and insidious ways in which rumors hurt, and sometime kill. We need this story as a kind of inoculation against social/civic hysteria, against the seduction of cults, against the daily routines in which being well-liked and included are easier than speaking out. The inoculation does not prevent or cure the infection so much as it gives us the strength and backbone to stand up during an epidemic. We are each implicated by each of these characters – Danforth too, like it or not – because their weaknesses are our own. I hope that our re-telling, re-purposed for our own time, might strengthen our capacity to take a stand in matters that affect livelihood, health and well-being of others.
Directed by Michael Najjar
What you are about to experience is not Arabian Nights. Instead, what you are about to see is our interpretation of Arabian Nights. These stories are ancient, handed down by oral tradition from generation to generation, and finally written and compiled by many historians, academics, orientalists, and dramatists. The difficulty lies in the fact that these stories were transformed over time—sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse.
In the academic setting, as theatre practitioners and scholars, we constantly strive to reconcile our research and our practice. During the term this play was being conceived, I was teaching Edward Said’s seminal book Orientalism. In it, Said writes about how orientalist writings and teachings created an artificial distinction between “the Orient” (the East) and “the Occident” (the West). Orientalist writing was also a way to dominate, restructure, and have authority over the Orient. In many ways, the tales of the Arabian Nights, as they’ve been handed down to us by French and British orientalists, have only perpetuated our view of the peoples of the Middle East and South Asia as mysterious, timeless, strange, and utterly foreign to our ourselves. In their writings, teachings, and artworks, the orientalists succeeded in creating an “Oriental other” which we still view as exotic, dangerous, and contrary to “our” values.
When I was asked what I wished to direct for this year’s University Theatre season, I looked for scripts that had strong female protagonists, required large, ensemble casts, and potential for great stagecraft. After looking over many scripts, I found Dominic Cooke’s Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of Arabian Nights. There have been several interesting adaptations of these tales recently, such as Mary Zimmerman’s Arabian Nights, Hanan al-Shayk’s One Thousand and One Nights, and Jason Grote’s contemporary version, 1001. I opted for the version you’ll see here for a few reasons: its humor, its theatricality, and its depiction of normal people who go through extraordinary circumstances. Even the more fantastical stories are questionable, as, they are recounted as “inventions” themselves. What you will not see are flying carpets, snake charmers, sexualized belly dancers, and smoke-filled harems. You will meet rich people and poor people, good people and bad people, going through dramatic and comedic circumstances—just as you would in plays from any culture.
We’ve worked hard to incorporate the best of “Western” theatrical techniques with “Eastern” stories. The design team and I have tried to make specific decisions that are theatrical while avoiding the traps of other historical Arabian Nights productions. (In other words, if you’ve come to see a stage version of Disney’s Aladdin, you will most definitely be disappointed!) What we ask is that you enjoy this play not for its “exotic” or its “Oriental” nature. Instead, experience this production like you would any other—for the sheer joy of coming to the theatre, of having a communal experience, and sharing in the trials and tribulations that we, as humans, have dealt with since we heard the very first storyteller whisper the word “Listen!”
I Ain’t Yo’ Uncle
Directed by La Donna Forsgren
Many of you have opened this program to find out what on earth you’ve gotten yourself into. Maybe you’re even reading this to find out what the heck this “New Jack” really means. Although I cannot provide the answers to all of your questions, let me assure you that I Ain’t Yo’ Uncle: the New Jack Revisionist Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anachronistic comedy and that this particular production relies heavily upon: the absurd, the ridiculous, and the profane. At times you will witness silly melodramatic acting conventions, “fantastical” special effects that transform the stage, a pack of wild hounds attack our heroine, and much, much, more.
I Ain’t Yo’ Uncle appropriates Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly (1853) to satirically explore the construction of race and social injustice in America. In I Ain’t Yo’ Uncle the characters from Uncle Tom’s Cabin come to life and put Stowe on trial for creating stereotypes which have caused them to experience “image problems.” But this play isn’t really about Uncle Tom’s Cabin or even Stowe. The concerns raised in I Ain’t Yo’ Uncle began well before the novel was ever written and continue to plague our society today as evidenced by the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. I Ain’t Yo’ Uncle was originally commissioned by the San Francisco Mime Troupe in 1990 and later revised after the brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991 by seven LAPD officers. For many, unnecessary and excessive force used to restrain King simply symbolized the ongoing social injustice African Americans have fought against over the past 350 years. The acquittal of four of the officers involved in the incident provided the spark that ignited an urban rebellion in the Los Angeles area that would last for six days.
Similar to the 1993 film Groundhog’s Day, this production envisions that the characters from Uncle Tom’s Cabin have remained trapped in a state of repetition. They have repeated Stowe’s versions of their lives each night for well over a hundred years until the beating of King and subsequent riots awaken them. Tom, Eliza, George, and Topsy now want to revise and share their own stories with you. It is my hope that you will not only enjoy this interpretation of I Ain’t Yo’ Uncle, but also reconsider why the seemingly disparate events such as enslavement, state repeals of Affirmative Action, and the Rodney King beating remain relevant today. Now sit back, relax, and get ready to mingle with the cast, hiss at our villain Simon Legree, and stomp along to Topsy’s dope rhymes!
–La Donna Forsgren