Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Separation of Stage and Screen

2014 Film poster
Original Broadway poster

So the other night I came across an article which really peaked my interest in the worst way possible about a concept I had been grappling with for some time now. Here it is:


Read it. Think about it. You may have opinions different from mine, but I know exactly how it made me feel- most of which I detailed in a post to Facebook which was longer than any Facebook post should have to be.

Here is that:


    You know, more than one person has asked me how I feel about the recent appearance of musicals and other works of theatre in spotlights appealing to the general public- like Disney's Into the Woods, or the recent CBS live musicals. The man auditioning me for NYU actually asked me this very question as well. Until now, I have had a mixed response, believing that those kinds of programs can provide excellent exposure and help to enlighten people who may not have explored theatre elsewhere.
    However, now I am leaning towards the opinion that theatre may be best off left on the stage. Into the Woods started off in the late 1980's as a highly praised, immaculately written show by Sondheim and Lapine. Its progressive thinking echoes what I would like to imagine is the average, open-minded thought process of the theatre goer.
    When a show like this is put out into the cinema world, where every Pastor Joe is able to take their kids without having any idea what they're seeing- that's when you get a recipe for disaster. Because all of the sudden, these men and women and children feel compelled to express their opinion on how this piece of art contradicts their personal beliefs.
    Now, if this show would have kept itself to the stage, where would we be? Yes- it'd be limiting itself to one form, which could be oppressive to the very nature of performance (however, since it was written as a stage musical and not a film piece, I have a hard time fully sympathizing with this option.) But what we'd really be left with is a crowd who can accept "nominalistic" (i.e. Secular and atheistic- according to this post's author) words and lyrics as a way to deliver the realities of the world we're living in.
    As I said, I'm starting to think that these expanded platforms may not be the best thing for some or most works of theatre- especially the progressive ones which have truly made a name for themselves. Before, I thought that it may help to enlighten those who wouldn't normally attend a show, now I believe that maybe those people did not attend for a good reason.


    Since then, I have been confronted with only one question- though I invite them and hope more will follow behind. That question being "What about the people who cannot afford to see a stage play or musical?"
    I think this question really approaches the root of why these makeshift critics are suddenly coming out to give their piece when Into the Woods has been around for nearly three decades. Along with being produced on Broadway multiple times, it has also toured around the world, been put on in small regional and school theaters everywhere, had multiple video and dvd releases* of both live stage and concert performances for under the price of a modern movie ticket, and possessed a plethora of varied cast recordings (many of which can be found here: http://castalbums.org/shows/Into-the-Woods/165) that clearly detail the controversial storyline and "atheist" lyrics of the show... All of this would lead me to believe that not having the funds to see the show live in-person is hardly an excuse for being ignorant to its themes anymore.

*a recording of a stage performance is not the same as being reformatted for a major motion picture

    Those who have heard about the "controversy" surrounding the attendees of the new Into the Woods movie know the biggest complaints- of which there are a dishearteningly large amount:

"I didn't even know it was a musical before I went! Every time they started singing again I groaned!"

"The second half was so dark! Nothing remotely close to a happy ending. What kind of Disney film is this?"

"I can't believe they would market this immoral trash to children! Pedophilia! adultery! robbery! death! Don't waste your money!"

I even saw people exercising their creative side with critiques that likened the production to "cocaine-laced candy- which can be life threatening to all of us if we are not discerning."


    As a kid who was raised on the Original Broadway Cast VHS recording of Into the Woods, I find it almost offensive that these accusations are being thrown around by those who have no idea what they're talking about. The problem is not with the show, its themes, or the "immoral" values it depicts. The problem is with the framing it is subjected to. My parents knew that if questions arose, they could easily explain the valuable life lessons carried within the songs.
Luckily, those were the kinds of parents I had. Not ones who were afraid to tackle real-world question, or ones who told me my whole life was already decided for me. But ones who understood and instilled in me the beauty of art- something that took a little thought to fully understand, as opposed to things so easy to accept...like Happily Ever After. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your insights. I also red the article. I agree and disagree with both of you. I love the theater. When I was single (and had disposable income) I went to plays all the time.
    My view on theater performances making the leap to the screen is as follows
    1- I think it is wonderful. I now live in nowheres land when it comes to opportunities to see theatrical performances. The highschool does plays every once in a while but I never hear about them until after they are done (and it is not from a lack of trying on my part). So those that make the leap to the screen are sometimes the closest I get to theater. PS I can't stand watching theater performances on a TV. It is nothing like the experience of actually watching it as play and just comes across as a bad made for TV boring production
    2- The other way I see these movies is more on the feelings of "Dr" Taylor. I will start by saying that I have not seen Into the Woods, ever. When I see a play and it deals with sensitive moral issues, they are talked and sung about, but I have been in a production that took issues of immorality and had two people pretend to make love on stage as part of the play. I am fine with the talk and the songs. There might be moments that I would be more uncomfortable with the conversation, but this conservative Mormon Girl has never felt the need to walk out of the play, which can not be said of movies. This is where film dealing with these sensitive topics bothers me. If they are going to "add" scenes into the movie just because they can, instead of gaining a new type of magic to it - has become ruined and tainted.
    3- As for taking your kids and then complaining that they were exposed to this or that. I say shame on you. There are lots of opportunities to find out what is in a movie before you take your kids and if you aren't ready to deal with those topics in discussing it with them- then you don't take you kids to a PG movie PG means Parent Guidance, not "family friendly" I could go off and talk about the lulling parents into a false sense of security with movies like FROZEN being rated PG but that is a whole other page. Parents should know better.
    4- I love the magic of watching a play. I love the magic and feeling of being engulfed in a movie. They are two different experiences. I don't think one is better or less worthy, but they are different and some things lend themselves so much better to the intimacy that the Theater offers and some things work better on a screen where they use visual sights to thrill and tell more story. It is like my view of books to movies. As reader, I use to HATE, how they ruined a book. But I had to learn to recognize they they aren't the same and I just need to except that they are just two different versions of the same story. They weren't meant to be the same. This is how I view plays to film They are two different ways to tell the same story. I actually appreciate it more when they are move different.
    Lastly, as a non-performer, my view of plays into movies is this, I know they are different, and even when people are giving bad reviews because for whatever reason (ie: were fools and didn't do their homework there is no excuse for ignorance, read a review before you go there are enough of them out there), in the end I think it does more positive things for theater. When I see a movie of a play that I haven't seen I am then more interested in going out of my way (and where I live it is very out of my way) to find an opportunity to see the play.I want see another version of the story, another interpretation of the story, I want to see how stage magic changes my perspective of what I thought the story was about. If both versions are done "right" they can both be worth having for everyone's consumption.