Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Theatre Department Heathens

Brigham Young University-Idaho is a college full of orthodox Mormons in a small bubble known as Rexburg, Idaho. The theatre department of BYU-I is a collection of people from every location and we stand out from everyone else in the bubble. It is not our habitual late nights and stereotypical loud-mouths and energy that sets us apart. It's the way we treat the world around us. It's the way we feel about politics, art, literature, all the humanities. I'm not saying we're all crazy liberals-- most of us are Republicans! What I'm trying to say is that we, as a department, offend some of our patrons.

I don't want to be "ungrateful" for our unalienable right to freedom of speech, but I think that there are those who take it for granted. Or they use it far too much at the grievance or annoyance of others. I'm a self-proclaimed heartless she-demon, so I don't mind saying this... But I think that these people actually believe that we want to hear what they're saying. There are few people in this world that I will listen to, much less inquire after their opinion. For instance, I don't much care for the opinions of those who pay to come to shows and then send the theatre department Letters of Offense. We have a lot of enraging stories, here in the 'Burg... Many of which are infamous.

There's the one about a play that featured murder and rape. There was also a scene in which the protagonist drank coffee for breakfast. The letter of offense that we got for that was that this certain audience member was appalled that we would have coffee references in our show.

Not outrageous enough? Well once, we decided to do The Scottish Play. And because it's Macbeth (DEVIL BEGONE) everything went wrong. People were injured, sure. Believe you me, those injury stories are worthy to be saved for another blog post. But among everything else, audience reaction went... Well, wrong. For those of you new to literature, Macbeth (DEVIL BEGONE) is a play about murder and mayhem and ghosties and women that wish they were men so that they could have metaphorical cahones. Well, when you say it with THAT attitude, it's no wonder someone was offended by such devilry. Yes, somebody was offended by the murder. In a Shakespeare show.

Theatre is-- as all art should be-- a representation of life. Sometimes, plays and musicals are set in a different world, a different place. Sometimes it's too fantastic to be anything normal. But underneath those gaudy costumes and high kicks lies the fundamentals of human nature. Tragedies and dramas are even classified by the way they treat universal truths (no really, it's in the books.)

So then, If theatre represents life, why shouldn't some plays be hard to deal with? Now there's a difference between being intentionally raunchy and crude and simply displaying those harsh facts of life. I can spot the difference because, when you think about it, it's not that hard.

What makes me so sad is when people are so caught up in their piety that they can't take a representation of life on the stage.

I did Drowsy Chaperone a year ago and there's a wonderful "rousing anthem" that takes alcoholism and likens it to the stumbling that we do in order to get through life. When you listen, it's more than funny words put to bright and beautiful melodies. It's the truth: we stumble along on life's crazy journey.

Well some people can't handle that. Some people only see the alcoholic references and that's that. They walk away so appalled that a bunch of college kids are "praising" the act of drinking booze that they can't even see the inspirational message. Endurance, right? That's a thing we preach in our Christian religion. That's something in our manuals. Something in our scriptures...

So when I say that "the show I'm working on will get more letters of offense than Santa has Christmas wishlists," it's because I know people will be blinded by the fact that our production uses the words "lesbians" and "dammit" that they won't see why we've got them in there.

Our directors are pretty in tune to possible uproar from the audience because we've had this problem for a while. Sometimes, they'll even change a word. But the intentions are always there-- because they should be.

I've been writing this while sitting on the floor of our Black Box Theatre, where the play, "Bielzy and Godfried" will be performed in about a month. I'm currently watch the actor playing Bielzy (the devil character) talk to the director about how to portray a line that's significant to the play, significant to life and manages to break the fourth wall in a very intimate way. The line says "You might see things that might shock you, amuse you... And we want to know. Your response says a lot about you."

The director pulled the actor aside.

"This line might be more important than any other in the whole show and this is a collection of morality plays," says my director. "It's said right to them and, if you do it right, it'll make them think. You HAVE to make them think! Once, we were doing a Standish play. We got letters of offense because people were so furious that 'the Lord's University' would DARE do a play written by a homosexual. And they completely missed the purpose of the show. Make them think, Dave. Make. Them. Think!"

He pounded the stage, punctuating the plea of all of us that "dare" do an "offensive" show.

Are you people the same kind of people that believe the Venus di Milo is porn? Are you the same people that think Picasso's Battle of Guernica is too violent to belong in any museum? Are you the same people that complained about Modern Family's use of "profanity" in the episode Little Bo Bleep? Then you're probably the same people who shouldn't be reading my blog.


  1. Oh my goodness, where were you when my roommate was trying to tell me that people shouldn't perform Othello and she won't read it because a man strangling his wife is too dark? People in Rexburg can be altogether ridiculous. Keep being awesome and offending people! <3

  2. Well, I refuse to be outrageous for the sake of being outrageous... But yes. I will keep shoving art into people's faces until they realize that the abhorrence should be directed at themselves, and not at amazing pieces of dramatic literature. <3