The Insidious Nature of Theatre
Damned if it's not everywhere
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Believe it or not...
There was a time when Radio-Canada, through it's primetime Sunday (hit) series Les beaux dimanches, would broadcast plays by ours and the world's greatest playwrights. (They even did my play, which brought it an estimated audience of 800,000 and sent me on a three-month trip through Europe...God bless those times.) There was a time when CBC showed opera and theatre and ballet. There was a time when even the American giants presented plays or the work of playwrights on shows like Playhouse 90 and The Goodyear Television Playhouse; on the latter Paddy Chayefsky tested the waters with his piece, Marty (before it went on to its movie version and an odd little Oscar for Ernest Borgnine in the role Rod Steiger created on TV) as did William Gibson with his seminal The Miracle Worker on the former.
Glee is clearly a Broadway queen's wet dream - or so I thought 'til I did some sniffing around.
Theatre and playwrights were integral to the creation of television.
No more. Indeed, it's gotten so bad at the Ceeb that it's a fucking miracle if their idiot arts feed on Twitter talks about anything besides Whitney's funeral or Demi's breakup.
But something else is happening and I like it very much. In a very surreptitious way, theatre is coming back onto the small screen. (In passing, it is also bringing with it a larger acceptance of Queer culture...but that's for another column.)
Let's start with the two obvious shows: Glee and Smash (the second would never have been possible without the first). Glee is clearly a Broadway queen's wet dream - or so I thought 'til I did some sniffing around. I spotted an app on the Apple store which allows Glee geeks - Gleeks - to sing - in real time - with other Gleeks around the world to a Karaoke recording of a song that appeared on the series. It also allows the Gleeks to record their rendition and subsequently have them rated by other Gleeks (1000s, it would appear) across the globe. This is a really fun app and you can burn away hours of your life listening to some shower-diva (or divo who is really a diva) blasting ersatz-Streisand with "Don't Rain on My Parade" - right down to the pronunciation: budda (for butter). Now many would say that these Broadway star wannabes always existed but I would suggest that Glee showed them that there was a way - besides American Idol - that they could pour out their guts in a song and it was about the drama not the Céline-Dionesque soar-note.
Smash is not a great show, but for a theatre aspirant it is a fun show.
If Glee teaches the hopeful about the drama of the musical itself, Smash is now showing them about the mechanics of mounting one. It is not a great show, but for a theatre aspirant it is a fun show. It does not reflect the full truth of mounting a production, but it is a reasonable facsimile. And, like my play (which never played to a bigger audience than those 800K who watched Rad-Can) it is going beyond what a community house can possibly do and saying: this is what you're looking for. I would suspect glee club coaches and community theatre directors around the world are falling on their knees and thanking God for - and cursing - both shows. (Listen to some of the people on that Gleek app if you want to know what I mean by cursing; keep that for the shower, kid.)
Look, I don't care if - for now - the only result of this is that productions of Annie get mounted in every hamlet in the nation (believe it or not, there were two Annies in St. John's last year!). The fact is, many of us - myself included - got the theatre bug in a roundabout way (from TV, from film - like when I saw the movie A Man For All Seasons with Paul Scofield and then studied the play in English class - from a book, even from a People magazine) - but what we haven't had in the last three decades is the legitimization of how we feel reflected in pop culture. Now, with Glee, Smash and all those little app-Gleeks out there, we do.