Welcome to Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get super enthusiastic about things.
This week, Stages editor Mark Blankenship geeks out (via Gchat) with Allison Taylor, TDF's very own Manager of Individual Giving and Events.
Which performance would you go back in time to see?
: Hello Allison! Before we get started, let me acknowledge that you are sitting about 20 feet from me, and if we wanted to, we could just shout this conversation at each other.
: Indeed! Because I am so excited about our topic, I may actually be inspired to yell random play titles across the office.
: But because we are incredibly savvy, we'll be speaking via the miracle of instant message. Would you mind telling our readers a little about what you do at TDF?
: Sure! I am the manager of individual giving and events. One of the things I love the most about my job is that I constantly get to talk to individual donors about theatre and our favorite performances. It is a rather inventive way of using my graduate degree which, like yours, is in DRAMATURGY!!!
: Dramaturgs forever! And I applaud your gentle segue to today's topic. Given our academic degrees and geeky personal interest in theatre history, let's discuss the historical performances we'd most love to see. The performances we'd travel back in time for, even if it meant exposing ourselves to infectious diseases of the 18th century that our modern bodies couldn't fight.
: Don't worry---if we ever went back in time to see Mrs. Patrick Campbel
l in Pygmalion
, I would just pocket a few Z packs.
: Smart thinking! So is she your first choice, or does another vintage turn top your list?
: You know… I don't think I'd want to go back that far. Most of the great performances I want to see are pretty contemporary, relatively speaking. But I'd probably see Mrs. Patrick Campbell in Mrs. Warren's Profession
, as I think that Shaw wrote that part specifically for her. What about you? I know you love Ibsen.
: I certainly do, but if we're talking about 19th-century drama, I would want to see Sarah Bernhardt
perform something. She was regarded as one of the greatest actresses of her day, and I want to know what that was like. Would her style of "great acting" even register with us today? I'm thinking it might seem incredibly overwrought, now that we've become accustomed to the more minimalist forms of camera acting. But I want to know for sure.
: Oh that's a great one.
: That's part of what makes this whole idea so appealing to me. Because unlike a novel or a painting, which can be experienced today in pretty much the same way they were experienced back then, you can't actually know what vintage acting was like.
: Absolutely. That reminds me of something that I kept coming up against when I was thinking about this topic. There are a lot of great stage performances that have been filmed. Sometimes the actors recreate their roles for a movie version, like Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden did for A Streetcar Named Desire
. (Oh, I would have loved to see Jessica Tandy in the original stage production!) Or sometimes the production has literally been filmed, like Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards in A Moon for the Misbegotten
But I always wonder how those performances change. Even if Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst were stunning in the filmed version of Moon
, I am sure they would have been even more compelling in person. In fact, Jason Robards tops my list of performers I wish I had seen. I'd like to see him in any O'Neill play.
: You're really onto something here. If we were able to go back in time, we'd not only be able to see these actors, but we'd also be able to see them in context. We'd be able to see them with other audience members. We'd be able to hear the acoustics as they spoke. The filmed versions can give us a taste, but it can't be the same.
Speaking of audiences… I want to go back and see the opening night performance of The Glass Menagerie
with Laurette Taylor as Amanda Wingfield. Because from what I understand, the audience grasped how brilliant she was in the midst of the performance. It would be thrilling to feel that sense of the room just GETTING IT.
: Don't you wish you were there when Shirley MacLaine went on in The Pajama Game
? Do you know that story?
: Wait... maybe I do? Something about her being the understudy?
: My friend just reminded me of this. She was the understudy, and after the lead broke her ankle, she went on. The performance was one of those legendary star turns
. A Hollywood producer saw her in the show at some point, and off she went to the silver screen.
: Yes! That's exactly what I'm talking about. Meanwhile, another appealing aspect of this fantasy is seeing how classic plays were performed when they weren't classics. Like... what was the first performance of Romeo and Juliet
like? What would we learn about the play if we experienced it the way Shakespeare's troupe performed it?
: And we have talked specifically about the pitfalls of Romeo and Juliet
before... how it actually plays entirely as a comedy until Mercutio dies, and then it becomes a tragedy. When it didn't come with all the baggage of being Romeo and Juliet
, it must have been differently received and performed.
: Granted, the opening chorus tells you that terrible things are going to happen to the star-crossed lovers, but an audience that doesn't stroll in knowing exactly how the deaths go down might have a very different ride. They might receive the early comedic moments as comedy, for instance.
: Wait… there are deaths?
: Don't tell me!
: And don't even get me started about going back to see the first-ever performance of Agamemnon
. It goes without saying, I hope, that when we travel back in time, we'll also be able to speak and understand the language and slang of the period we visit.
: Oh, of course. But the thing that kills me is that my "golden age" isn't 2,000 years ago. It was maybe 50 years ago, and it was in America!
: So close, yet so far!
: There are certain definitive musical performances that I wish I had seen: Ethel Merman in Gypsy
, Bobby Morse in How to Succeed…
, and John Raitt in Carousel
. Raitt in Carousel
is a particular one for me because I enjoy much of the score, but I don't love that show because I just cannot get down with Billy Bigelow. But maybe I just need to see a definitive interpretation of it. My understanding is that John Raitt made that character so sympathetic, so charming, and all I can think of is… how?
There's this clip on YouTube of him singing "Soliloquy," and I see glimmers of how it would have gone... but he was performing for TV, and it feels much more cartoonish and overwrought than it must have been in person. It is still gorgeous though. What a voice.
: A voice worth traveling back in time for!
Now it's your turn! Which performance would YOU travel back in time to see? Geek out with us in the comments!