Why Watching the Oscars is Like Working on A Play
Thoughts on what you can learn from your artistic collaborators.
Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (© The Weinstein Co.)
I'm currently taking a Theories of Acting and Directing class (as I mentioned in last week's blog) and one of the things my professor said to us in the first week of the semester, was that if we learn anything from this course, it should be to use the adjective "Brechtian" correctly.
As a classroom of drama students, we all laughed knowingly at this joke about a word that is thrown around in theater circles as often as "socialism" is in the Republican primary debates. I'm not a director, but it's important for me to understand these directing and theoretical concepts of theater so I can write about them from an educated perspective and use terms like this correctly.
Not being an actor myself, one of the reasons I'm taking this class is to more easily communicate with actors in their terms (whether they're studying Stanislavski or Viewpoints), and I always appreciate meeting actors with a breadth of knowledge of playwrights and dramatic literature. If I make a Shakespeare reference and nobody gets it, that's just awkward. Similarly, in my technical theater experience, I appreciate actors who know how to not break their wireless mics or who are patient with the lighting cues during tech. Costume and other designers fascinate me, because I don't think I have the part of my brain meant for that, so hearing their perspectives on the vision of a production always blows my mind. Costume design, like most tech aspects of a production, go unnoticed unless they're bad -- so pay attention to the great period costumes in the next play you see. Great costumes make the actors and directors look good too.
Theater is a collaboration, don't forget, so it helps if we can try to speak the same language. Also, it's important to listen and learn from each other. Your friends probably know something that will help you better understand what you're seeing.
For example, Sunday night I was watching the Oscars with a group of friends from different backgrounds. For example, one friend was explaining movie scores to us. A different friend who works in TV was imparting her knowledge of teleprompters ("I don't wanna pull that I work in TV card but…") while I complained about Octavia Spencer's speech being cut off and those minutes going to the Cirque de Soleil performance that had nothing to do with this year's nominees and the constant mic feedback ("It's not just me, you guys hear that right?").
Our commentary sort of reminds me of the different groups of people that come together from different areas of expertise to work on a theatrical production. "Jessica Chastain went to Juilliard! With Michael Urie!" "Where's the Pixar nominee in this category?" "Whoa, that's a spoiler!" "No it's not, it was in the trailer." "How can Hugo's visual effects be better than Harry Potter's?" "They weren't." "In Memoriam is my favorite part." "It's called Dark of the Moon? Not Dark Side?" "…Pink Floyd probably has the rights." "What is Emma Stone wearing?" If I didn't watch the Oscars with friends that night, I wouldn't have known that the guy who wrote "Man Or Muppet" is the guy from Flight of the Concords, or that Hans Zimmer has his own company. Try to imagine seeing a musical without a composer or a musical director. Or try to imagine the Oscars without all those fashion designers.
Just like you attempt to absorb all of the pop culture tidbits flying through a room as you watch the Oscars with your friends, try to absorb all the different perspectives of the theater you see. If you're an actor, think about the tech that makes them look good. If you're a writer, think about the concept of the director and how that affects the script. Every production is a collaboration and can't function without all the pieces.
(Just to put it out there, Meryl Streep is still halfway to an EGOT, and I don't think anyone would complain about having Meryl back on Broadway.)