Theatreland – cue the lights, start the music and let the show begin!

As you go out and about in town, you frequently encounter posters and adverts for performances and musicals in the theatres. Social media algorithmic adverts also tend to push theatre adverts to me. It may be overwhelming to take it all in but generally they are great reminders of the spectacular array of performing arts and talent that are available to see with family and friends. You can actually make an evening and night out with the number of shows available. However it is not usually cheap to see all these shows regularly unless you look out for discounts and special reductions for last minute bookings. I always try to see shows with friends or family whenever I can.

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The performance arts industry is very important to the revenue it generates in the global economy from Broadway in New York, The West End in London and the other regions of the world. According to theatre associations and brilliant industry resources, UK Theatres and Society of London Theatres (SOLT), there are 14 million theatre attendances per annum. Their latest figures state: …“the figures reveal a combined audience of over 34m and ticket revenue of nearly £1.28bn, from a total of 62,945 performances over the course of the year in the West End and across the UK”. So it is a thriving industry with natural show closures, but with a lot of long running shows too.

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I would like to think that theatre and drama have been around for as long as humans have tried to keep themselves entertained. This is reflected in the piece I read online by London Theatre Direct: …“Arguably, theatre can be dated back all the way to 8500 B.C. considering tribal dance and religious rituals. Theatre, depending on how you define it, goes hand in hand with society as it has always been a part of life to express and perform in some way or other”.

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Undoubtedly Europe has a long tradition and rich culture of theatre. The Ancient Greeks are credited for developing the Western art form, and also theatre as a place for world historic buildings and architecture. The word theatre and thespian are both derived from the Greek language, culture and mythology. The Romans are also renown for the love of theatre and built 125 theatres at their height of power. The oldest theatre ruins I have been to visit, as yet, are in Pompeii, Italy. I hope to visit other ancient relics in other continents one day. I also was told by Italian relatives that Pulcinella is actual the source of inspiration for Punch – one of the earlier forms of puppet or street theatre in the United Kingdom.

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The United Kingdom records of it’s own heritage seems to start during the Elizabethan age with various influences from other close traditions. The most pivotal for this period would have been the plays, playwrights, theatre companies and the buildings like The Globe at the time. Elizabethan theatre also is world-famous, and has the lasting legacy of the works of William Shakespeare. As an English-speaking country in Trinidad, we were taught Shakespeare for secondary level English (I also studied Shakespeare for A’Levels).

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Shakespeare statue at the British Library

The V&A Museum has a great page for resources in the period and stated at Shakespeare: “Shakespeare wrote 38 plays and numerous sonnets. It is not just the breadth of his work that makes Shakespeare the greatest British dramatist, but the beauty and inventiveness of his language and the universal nature of his writing. Shakespeare is performed today because his writing still speaks to audiences all over the world”. Ironically, the first show I saw in London was the musical ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’ on roller-skates (yeah, I know!), which is loosely based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. I also saw recently ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ at the Barbican Theatre – it quite nice when you can recognise the lines from a school lesson, or phrases that are well known in their own right. I still have to attend a performance at the modern Globe Theatre along The Thames and hope to do so in the near future. Working at the British Library, I frequently come across Shakespearean references, objects and had seen the brilliant exhibition on William Shakespeare a few years ago.

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The history of theatre has developed since to various degrees such as Renaissance Theatre, Victorian Pantomime, during the World Wars, musicals, other 20th Century innovations and even digital drama. The Germans and the British theatre-lands are documented in the book ‘Popular Musical Theatre in London and Berlin 1890 to 1939’ as well as the growth of Broadway in the USA. The book states: “In the USA, traditionally more accepting of popular culture than Europe, the musical has a high cultural status, often closely connected to the formation of national identities. More than just a simple celebration, it has embodied America’s mastery over modernity in particularly amiable ways, as entertainment”.

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Musicals are good fun and there are a myriad of shows to see at any given time in London. It is great to see, hear and tap along to a good musical show. I recently went to see Motown the Musical before it closed in London. I loved the story of the entrepreneurial record company, the real life characters, the political and social historical undertones, the costumes, make-up and the music obviously. The crowd was up on their feet at the end for a sing-a-long and this show in particular was inter-generational for its’ classic soul music and relevance to musical history.

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There are large production teams required for each show and I imagine it can literally be high-pressured and intense at times. Over the years, there have been various technical developments in lights and sound – with the theatre being a precursor to film-making (which I blog about earlier this year). We tend to forget all the make-belief or pretence, and literally are transported to another world by the stories being told and the drama on stage.

 

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The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan of Miami Sound Machine

Miami Sound Machine’s musical show poster was another surprise encounter on a Tube poster a few weeks ago. I obviously loved the band and leader singer Gloria Estefan in the 1980s, and whilst sharing the photo I took of the poster on social media I accidentally found out that the band recently had been awarded and recognised at the Library of Congress for its’ contribution to Latin American heritage, culture and music. The song ‘Rhythm is Going to Get You’ in particular will be treasured and showcased for it’s cultural value and worth. Apart from listening to their music again, I also want to see the Miami Sound Machine show too!

I do like dramas too, but it requires more time to find good shows. There is also a point to stress that most plays and novels are literature, which eventually becomes plays or shows at the theatre. The two art forms feed each other with creativity. I am looking forward to seeing the play ‘Small Island’ in May and will read the book by the Andrea Levy to make sure that I have a deep understanding of the story at the live performance. I am also looking forward to the set, costumes and seeing the diverse actors.

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The industry has looked at itself for the Diversity and Inclusion litmus test, and I recently saw that exclusive research by The Stage looked at how gender and ethnicity affects the types of roles cast. The research states: “the 2019 results reveal that black, Asian, and minority ethnic performers make up 38% of cast members in the 19 commercial West End musicals counted. This figure means West End musicals are more ethnically diverse than their counterparts on Broadway, were 34% of musical casts are from BAME backgrounds, and considerably more diverse than programming on UK television, where BAME actors make up 18% of performers’. Also, I was sad when I read an article recently about La Tanya Richardson Samuel (actress wife to Samuel L Jackson) saying that she was happy to play the maid in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but it was a melancholy reflection of the little progress in racial tensions made in the fictional times as well as in real life. Samuel L Jackson reportedly said: ‘in entertainment, there is a responsibility somewhere in us to reflect the times we’re in. You can do that in the theatre…

The male character seems to get the ‘named role’ (leads) and therefore gender equality also needs to be improved. The industry has been getting better with more women writers and a better representation of the society we live in today. There is some progress but always more work needs to be done, and continuous developments in a diverse workforce in any industry. Apparently the musical ‘Aladdin’ is one of the “most widely diverse musicals”, and I am looking forward to attending the musical next month with a visiting Trinidadian friend.

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I also went to the Young Vic last year in a programme where they invited local school children to meet some of their production staff – this too is a great initiative for young persons.

Whilst I was doing my brief research for this blog post, it was apparent that theatre research has many layers to it – from the point of view in acting,  play writing, creative, production, technical to multiple art forms. It is pure and real entertainment that we still love seeing live in venues across the world. It is also has value in the cultural identity, assets and people who work in this field. And as I close the curtains… I have never seriously acted in a play but I will continue to look out for a show that I can see and enjoy with good company.

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4 thoughts on “Theatreland – cue the lights, start the music and let the show begin!

  1. Theatre- musical theatre being what I love the most is great fun. I have to spend the most time with tours. While I don’t live near NYC, I live in a major touring city. My excitement starts before the lights dim- it begins when I start to start to get ready. The excitement already starts to build up. Waiting in my seat can feel like forever- I love the little things- hearing the orchestra warm up, the lights dim- you know little thing- well, I love a lot.

    Theatre is powerful.

    Like

    1. Thank you very much for the comment and it sounds like you are really passionate about it! It is very exciting and a brilliant way to see and enjoy so many art forms. You sold it to me again. 🙂

      Like

      1. Acting, Singing, and Dancing in one- three in one show. So many art forms- the spectacle has a lot of art forms.

        Well, that comment only shows a piece of my passion for musical theatre. My blog goes into that passion even further.

        Liked by 1 person

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