Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Fictional Division Between Musicals & Non-Musicals

The world of BoHo is abuzz right now. We've just closed Big River with great audiences and fantastic feedback, and we're now moving into our two upcoming shows: The Elephant Man and our first holiday musical, Striking 12. As we approach the exciting and daunting task of casting and working with designers and fashioning schedules, the contrast between The Elephant Man and Striking 12 could not be more acute. Striking 12 is a fun New Years Eve musical with the actors playing all the instruments while The Elephant Man is an unflinching and realistic non-musical look at the masks we wear and the cruelty we inflict on others. And, inevitably, people begin to wonder: how can the same theatre company be producing such drastically different works?

This is a question we hear often from others in the theatre community, from our patrons, from our artists, from the organizations that generously provide grants to cover some of our operating expenses: why do you guys do both musicals and non-musicals? Isn't that kind of unfocused? Can't you find your voice? Which do you do, musicals or non-musicals?

This is such an odd question for us. Do people ask the same thing when Steppenwolf, home of very contemporary works such as August: Osage County, produces a Shakespeare play? Or when Chicago Shakespeare presents a Noel Coward play? Or when Raven Theater produces a comedy? This question of choosing between musicals or non-musicals is predicated on the idea that a theatre has to specialize in order to be any good, and that musicals and non-musicals are so different that you can't possibly do both, at least not well. And, apparently, that audiences only go to one or the other and don't enjoy both.

Well we're here to destroy such preposterous ramblings. The reason that we divide our season equally between musicals and non-musicals seems obvious to us. The aim of our season, in fact our entire company outlook, is to present experiences that are equally artistic in all areas. We celebrate art in all its forms, be it painting, lighting, sculpture, poetry, movement, acting, soundscapes, or even, yes, music and singing. Music is as integral to art as breathing is to life. Not every part of life has music in it, just as not every piece of art we create has music. Yet the tapestry of life would be woefully incomplete without music.

Our lives are constructed from a patchwork of moments of intense struggle, of heightened melodrama, of honest affection, of deadly seriousness, and of shameless levity. We try to capture this same artistic complexity by mixing such potent ingredients as the poetry of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the haunting soundscapes of Playing With Fire, the evocatively cyclical scenic design of Hello Again, and even the soaring, heartfelt harmonies of Big River's "Free At Last." So for us, there is no division between music and non-musical sensibilities. Our sandbox is big enough to include all of it. I encourage you to explore our current season, and our past seasons as well, think about them in relation to the moments in your own life, and tell me if you think the experience would be as rich and meaningful without music.