Peter Filichia:No "theater dork" he!
Peter Filichia:
No "theater dork" he!
Most of the time, when I rant and rave about an issue, even if a vast majority of people support what I've written, a few will chime in to say, "Lighten up!" When I complained about Show People magazine advertising a T-shirt that said "Theater Dork" on it, I did expect some readers to roll their eyes heavenward and take to their keyboards to write, "For God's sake, can't you take a joke?"

Didn't happen; not yet, anyway. This time, everyone who took the time to write in echoed my sentiments that someone who's smart about theater should not be labeled a "Theater Dork" -- a phrase that has a negative connotation to it -- but, rather, a "Theater Expert." Wrote Zev Valancy: "If you had run my school, I would have been the happiest kid there. Now I've decided to be happy about being a Theater Expert and will never describe myself as a Theater Dork again!"

Byron Kolln concurred, too: "I'm right behind you regarding your latest Diary entry! Why should we feel ashamed for having a passion about theater? Because the songs we listen to were written with more style and originality than the mish-mash of crap that is pumped into most people's ears? I care about theater because it is the nearest thing to heaven that I know. I go to the theater and I feel as if I'm attending church. My knowing 'Getting Married Today' almost word-for-word does not make me a Theater Dork. Would knowing all the lyrics to the entire banal catalogue of Britney Spears 'songs' make me a dork? I think so!!"

Aviva Rothschild agreed even more strenuously. "I wouldn't wear a 'Theatre Dork' T-shirt," she wrote, "but I do I wear my love of musicals on my sleeve -- or, to be more precise, on my car. My Colorado license plate reads SHOW2NS to show that I am unashamedly and blatantly a musical theater fanatic. I love blasting out my CDs in the car, and I especially love it when I pull up at a red light next to someone who has his passenger window open. I feel like I'm improving their minds. (Though once, when I was blaring Betty's version of 'I Never Do Anything Twice,' the people in the car next to me hastily rolled up their window. Prudes.) So I'm thinking of making myself a T-shirt that reads 'I'll bet mine is bigger than yours!' on the front and, on the back, 'My musicals collection, of course.'"

Josh Ellis wrote, "I am not and never have been a 'Theater Dork.' The expression I prefer is 'Broadway Baby,' which has great affection attached to it. I also like the alliteration, and the implication that our love of the theater is largely based on musicals. When you mention The Frogs to a Broadway Baby, that person assumes that you are referring to the Sondheim musical at the Vivian Beaumont Theater that started in the pool at Yale University, not the play that Aristophanes wrote in 388 B.C." He's right; if you love Death of a Salesman, Our Town, and The Cherry Orchard, people won't treat you the same way as they will if you love My Fair Lady, Dames at Sea, and Whoop-Up.

Which brings me to Jason Flum's e-mail. He wrote that the "Theater Dork" label was a by-product of many people assuming that musical theater is for homosexuals only -- "that inextricably attached gay label," as he put it. "I don't know how many straight theater lovers there are anymore. But I do know that, with many people, there is an attached idea about your sexuality -- though I have no idea how that came about, considering how popular theater was in the '40s and '50s and '60s." I wrote back to Jason -- who I know is in his early 20s -- that, in the eras which he referenced, no one was talking much about being gay, so mainstream audiences probably didn't think too much about the sexuality of those who loved musical theater.

Edward R. Cox wrote, "I had already read my copy of Show People during a rehearsal of Chicago -- Amos has a lot of off-stage time -- and when I saw the ad for that shirt, my blood ran cold. Wearing it would be akin to wearing a set of concentric circles for bullies and the theater illiterate to attack. If Show People offered more supportive and not self-mocking merchandise in their magazine, a lot more people could wear shirts that would make them feel more secure in their choice of profession or hobby."

Maybe I shouldn't say that everyone concurred with me, for while Grimace Boyer agreed with my main premise, he did take issue with my contention that those who know sports statistics aren't subject to as much criticism as theater experts. "In addition to being a Theater Savant (if you will), I am also something of a Sports Stats Person," he wrote. "And just as Theater Dorks, Geeks and Experts get mocked, there's much criticism given to what are generally referred to -- and quite condescendingly, with vitriolic delivery -- as 'Numbers Guys.' The unfortunate fact of the matter is that anti-intellectualism is hitting its stride. You've got kids being menaced at school for getting good grades, as if the dumb jocks of the world would get the As if only those smart kids in class would stop turning in right answers. So some students are afraid to raise their hands with correct answers for fear of being labeled the 'Smart Kid,' which also means 'pariah.' It's sad but true, which is why I've learned to embrace it. My CD collection is bursting at the seams with Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, and Andrew Lippa, not to mention Verdi, Brahms, Hovhaness, Cui, Barber, Glass, and Cage. My home library is stuffed to the rafters with Michael Chabon, Richard Russo, Frank Rich, and others who would never even register the slightest bit of recognition in the ears of my peers -- and that, my friend is the beginning of a lyric."

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@theatermania.com]