Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Our Town reminds us to appreciate the miracle of everyday life

Kerry Glamsch
By Kerry Glamsch, guest director of PCYT's production of Our Town, playing Nov. 17 - 19, 2011 at the Patel Conservatory in Tampa.  

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?”
In the early 1980s, I saw a production of Our Town at The Tampa Players, one of two now-defunct Equity theaters in Tampa. Too punk rock and self-absorbed to appreciate it, I thought the play nostalgic, and walked out of the theater unaware that a seed had been planted.
A lifetime later, on a plane to Romania in the fall of 2008, I read Our Town for the first time and wept.
This is not a quaint slice of Americana, a look back into some idealized past. Written in 1937, the staging of Our Town radically broke standardized theatrical conventions. Its playwright, Thorton Wilder, borrowed ideas from Greek and Chinese theater.
In a 1938 New York Times article, “A Preface for Our Town,” Wilder stated that his avant-garde approach was an attempt to “…restore significance to the small details of life by removing scenery. The spectator, through lending his imagination to the action, re-stages it inside his own head.”
While teaching the play at Craiova University, I focused not so much on its staging, but on the content and theme. And the students got it. They loved it! As did students at Dominguez High in Los Angeles’ notorious Compton neighborhood when they staged a production in 2002 that was later turned into the award-winning documentary OT: Our Town.
Our Town transcends, literally “going beyond” time and culture, speaking to a part of us, if we are ready to listen, that is universal. As the Stage Manager character remarks, “… there are some things we all know but we don't take ‘em out and look at ‘em very often.”
Since 1960, Our Town has been produced in at least twenty-two languages in twenty-eight countries. It is performed at least once every night somewhere in the U.S.
How, after 74 years, does the play still speak to us? What themes remain relevant to our very modern world?
“It goes so fast,” the play’s protagonist Emily says, that “We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed!”
In focusing on the everyday, the things we take for granted, Wilder suggests that the miracle of life is right here in front of us, if only we would take the time to really look and listen.
In the moments leading to her epiphany, Emily observes, “From morning till night, that's all they are--troubled.”
Freed from her earthly obligations, Emily experiences a moment of illumination. In an epiphany of joy and sorrow, she exclaims, “Oh earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you!”
This production of Our Town at the Patel Conservatory will be much more than just a rehearsal process. In addition to thorough text analysis, building characters, blocking and lines, our actors, through improvisational games, ensemble-building, trust exercises and journaling, will go on a life-changing journey. Together, we will bridge boundaries and take the time to explore, look and listen so that we, and our audience, might better appreciate our brief time here together.

The seed is now sprouting. Let the blossoming begin!

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