Monday, July 29, 2013

Showing Its Age: Tradition, Pageantry, and the Lost Colony

This past weekend, your Friendly Neighborhood Dramaturg had the opportunity to travel to North Carolina's Outer Banks (that chain of Islands off the Atlantic Coast) and spend some time on Roanoke Island and the town of Manteo.  While there, I also hit up Ft. Raleigh National Park and saw The Lost Colony, a massive outdoor dramatic spectacle that is presented there every summer and is now in its 76th season.

By way of history, Lost Colony is the second oldest outdoor drama in the United States, begun in 1937 with support of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Numerous American thespians are alumni of the program, including Andy Griffith, Terrence Mann, and Ted Tally.  Despite the pressures of the great Depression, Lost Colony lead to a tourist boom in Manteo and the Outer Banks.  In 2013, it was also awarded a Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre.

One of the interesting things about going to the drama, listening to the announcements made as people are getting seated, and flipping through the souvenir program, is that the Lost Colony experience is a combination of past tradition and future progress.  True to it's progressive roots, Lost Colony embraces its community outreach and has been recognized for excellence.  And the house announcements will proudly tell you of this.  Yet at the same time, alongside mentioning the Tony Award (which, I must say, strikes me as the epitome of modesty, I would have glued mine to my forehead), the announcements will proudly tell you about alumni of the show.  This year's director played both the roles of Poor Tom and Sir Walter Raleigh back in the 60's and 70's, one of the actresses has the distinction of being both the youngest and oldest person to play a particular role, etc.  The fact that actors and staff members return to the show repeatedly and in varying capacities seems to be a real source of pride for the production, and the town of Manteo itself.

This is not to say that everything is wonderful.  The script, written in the 1930's, is definitely beginning to show its age.  The treatment of the Roanoke natives is just a little too "heathen savage," complete with Tonto-esque "White-man.. go here.." speech patterns and a propensity for deerskin loincloths.  The treatment of the hostile leader Wanchese seems particularly simplistic, particularly when counterposed to the "pioneer spirit" of the almost completely virtuous colonists (though they do point out that much of the trouble was begun by Englishman Ralph Lane's killing of Algonquin leaders).

Despite this, The Lost Colony embodies much that is good in the tradition of American dramatics (something that the American theatre Wing and I actually agree on... take note, it doesn't happen often).  The establishment of a tradition of excellence and engagement provides a firm foundation for exploration and outreach. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Squirrel that Roared: A Card from the Folks at Howlround

"What if imagination and art are not the frosting at all, but the fountainhead of human experience."
 --Rollo May

That there is your Friendly Neighborhood Dramaturg showing off a card he received from the good folks over at Howlround.  It's awfully nice when we wander off the digital and into the analog realms for a moment or two.  In this increasingly fragmented theatrical word we live in, it behooves us to keep in touch with one another.

No man is so foolish but he may sometimes give another good counsel, and no man so wise that he may not easily err if he takes no other counsel than his own. He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.
--Hunter S. Thompson

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bad Theatre In Oakland

Bad news on a hot night in the South.  It's not the heat, that's not so bad, but the humidity.  As smothering and unwelcome as an unbathed paramour in your bed, and just as likely to give you diseases.  The air is damp and tempers are short in the wake of the George Zimmerman ruling in Florida.  For those of you just joining us, a neighborhood watchman (Zimmerman) shot and killed a teenage boy by the name of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  Some gink with a gun ended some kid's life.  The claim was self defense, and under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" laws, that's all it takes for an acquittal.  Race is an issue here.  I didn't follow the trial, read up and draw your own conclusions.

Of greater interest, at least at the moment, are those short tempers.  Numerous protests, rallies, and petitions have sprung up in the wake of the verdict.  According to sources, protests turned ugly in Oakland, with vandalism and the American flag being burned.  Ye gods!  Folks are even lighting "blunts" in the flames of old glory.  Here lies the Great Society.

It is that flag burning that interests me at the moment, particularly in terms of its theatricality.  What is it to burn the flag of a nation?  In my days with the Boy Scouts, we burned numerous American flags as a form of respectful retirement.  Piled them on the grate and up they went in a hot nylon conflagration.  Melted the grate at one point.  And it always felt strangely subversive.  But somehow, I'm not sure that is what our protestors were getting at here.

Let us also set aside flag burning in a foreign context.  When protestors in Yemen, Hungary, or Canada burn an American flag, it is generally a pretty clear indication of displeasure with American policy.  That's not quite what is at stake here either.

These people burn the flag out of anger.  But I don't think it can be said that they "hate America."  And as much as "patriots" will drape themselves in Old Glory and poo poo these "children" as throwing a "tantrum" or wrinkle their nose in "disgust" and simply dismiss these protestors, they miss the point in a way that few have since the days of Spiro Agnew, or maybe Michael Dukakis.  This rage comes from a feeling that they are no longer (and some would submit never really were) partners in the American project.  They are acting against the symbol because it is the only thing left to act against.  And as for the gentleman lighting the "blunt" in the flames?  Who can blame him?  When the frustration grows enough, just tune out and let the THC take you on a ride, enjoy the colors.

I will not pretend to understand things further than this.  Oppression and privilege exist, institutionally, in this nation.  I'm lily pale, myself... and there are few photos of me outdoors because of the massive lens flair I cause.  But for all that, I benefit.  I cannot say what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin that night.  But I know the system has run its course for better or worse.  But we should not ignore the inherently theatrical act of protest here.

It is bad theatre, to say the least.  Bad vibes.  But it is also the kicking and struggling of a people who feel they do not have a say.  We as a people ignore this at our peril.  It might just be the biggest show of the year.