File puptcrit/puptcrit.0810, message 374


Date: Tue, 28 Oct 2008 04:20:47 -0400
To: puptcrit-AT-puptcrit.org
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] Dealing with tragedy and tragic shows



On Oct 27, 2008, at 10:09 AM, puppetpro-AT-aol.com wrote:

> I would also add that most great stories have substance that lasts 
> beyond the sadness or horror or tradegy.=A0
   I would add that most great stories also have substance that lasts 
beyond the joy and laughter, and that there is - more often than not - 
a mixture of all of the above which is a large part of what makes them 
great stories to begin with. Rarely can you have a decent, much less 
great, story that does not contain various levels of emotion. The 
contrast and journey from one to the other draw us in.

> We all have different things we remember -- and really great stories 
> keep being remembered on different levels as we age.=A0
>
> Childhood isn't all sweetness and light, and children know this.=A0
   Gee, just childhood? Life is not all sweetness and light (nor is it 
all sour and darkness), but if we learn this as children we'll be 
better equipped to deal with it as adolescents and adults.
>
> Years ago I told a story that included Baba Yaga to a friend's 
> children, ages 4 and 6. I purposely left out the part about her eating 
> children, though I did mention that she sharpened her teeth -- at 
> that, the six year old asked if it was because she ate children?=A0
>
> I simply nodded.
>
> Her father was aghast that I would tell such a tale to his children! 
> =A0Like the Buddha's father, he wanted to protect his children from all 
> things sad, ugly, and evil.
>
> But introducing children to the "truth of human behavior" is much 
> safer in a fairy tale than letting them find out later in reality.=A0
   I firmly believe in using what I call a healthy fear in shows. It's 
far different than the use of gratuitous or graphically violent scare 
tactics, or undue exposure to dangers or evils. Bad things happen, and 
a healthy fear is one that creates suspense and teaches that there are 
dangers and threats in the world, AND that there are consequences in 
how you deal with them. There is learning in dealing with them properly 
and wisely, and learning from the mistakes of dealing with them 
incorrectly or foolishly, and even learning from ignoring or not 
dealing with them. There is a fear for the safety of a character we 
care for, and the fear of the character representing the threat. In my 
mind it is far better to learn many of these things through stories 
than to be exposed to them firsthand. When we sanitize a story too much 
(usually because we fear it will harm the child, or that someone might 
object) we remove the threat and often the whole underlying point of 
the story. This is counterproductive, because not only do we not teach 
how to deal with problems, but we also leave the threat loose in the 
world as it has neither been defeated nor redeemed. We (not just 
children) want to feel that the thing we fear has been conquered and 
will no longer be a threat - at least for a while. We want, dare I say 
need, good to triumph over evil, even if that means that the good guy 
dies as well. He/she dies a hero, but has still vanquished the evil.
   To coddle a child, to attempt to keep them from all harm - real or 
imagined - is to do them great harm as not only will there be a rude 
awakening one day, but they are unprepared to deal with problems in a 
healthful way, have not learned alternative solutions from other's 
behavior (real or in stories), and have no real resistance to the 
infection of the evils of life which exist. How do you even teach a 
child right from wrong if they are "protected" from all aspects of life 
that may be sad, ugly, or evil? How will a child take chances and 
risks, and push the boundaries in life, if they are not even allowed 
near the fence? They will have a very limited ability to use their 
imagination to create anything with such a "safe" existence. If they 
don't do it as a child, they surely won't do it as an adult, so they 
won't have solutions to problems, creative or otherwise, much less come 
up with the next great invention.
   And I think it is important to impart that sometimes the bad or sad 
thing is a matter of perspective and understanding nature. When talking 
post show with children about some of the threats in the stories that I 
perform, I try to stress that the threat and danger is often a natural 
one. For instance, the wolf is not being mean when he eats the duck in 
Peter and the Wolf, he's doing what he would naturally do to survive - 
eating a small animal - and that it is not safe for Peter to go into 
the woods because the wolf wouldn't see him as a kid, but as a small 
animal and therefore potentially a meal. Yes, it's sad for the duck, 
but wolves do have to eat or they will die.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: The Independent Eye <eye-AT-independenteye.org>
>
>> What do you all think about taking an audience through such a sad 
>> ordeal when there is nothing hopeful in the telling? Is  it jerking 
>> an audience around?  It is one thing to read a sad tale and another 
>> to take an audience there.  I really just don't know what to think.
   Nothing hopeful in the telling? I would venture out on a limb and say 
that there is then not much of a story. True, it can end in tragedy, 
but is there nothing hopeful to learn in the tale? Is there nothing 
hopeful in the end of "Romeo and Juiliet" or "West Side Story" (same 
tale, different time period)? Can we not learn from their attempts to 
overcome the evils of prejudice? Can we not take hope in the fact that, 
although they suffered and died, they were able to overcome that evil, 
and that just perhaps, we too might be able to do the same if we tried? 
Is there nothing hopeful in the struggle of the lead character in most 
tragedies? Few really good stories are (IMO) truly defeatist, sucking 
the spark life out of the audience at the end of the show. Is there no 
hope in the life, stories, and plays about Anne Frank? There is no hope 
in her ending, but there IS hope in the story and the telling of it. 
Does telling or performing such a tale jerk the audience around? I 
think not if it is well done, but hopefully it does move them  to 
another place both emotionally and intellectually.

> Really good question.  I think it's always been difficult, but 
> probably more so in recent years.  There are just periods in dramatic
> history when tragedy is accepted, and others where it isn't.  Oddly, I 
> think there's been a reversal between film and theatre audiences.
> Used to be, in the movies you'd have to tack happy endings onto 
> everything, whereas theatre was "more serious" and we could deal with
> the immense sadness of the finale of DEATH OF A SALESMAN, for example. 
>  Now, it seems that anything goes in film, but in theatre
> you either have to add a final uplifting chorus (e.g. the end of 
> SPRING AWAKENING) or make it some other race in a kingdom far away.
   I don't know if I agree with this. I think that often we line our 
wagons up in a row, following the ones before us that have been 
successful. The happy ending brings in bucks as people go away feeling 
good. I think you can end in tragedy and still have people feel good 
(though clearly not the same kind of feeling good as a happy ending). 
Some of my favorite tragic shows end that way. I don't recall a happy 
ending being tacked on to the end of "One Flew Over the Coocoo's Nest" 
but it has been a while since I watched it. And although I did not care 
for "Titanic" I recall people coming out of the movie crying, yet going 
back to see it several times. I would agree that, due to the personal 
and present nature of theater (it's happening here and now, and we are 
sharing in it as an audience), we are more likely to want to experience 
something that is uplifting in some way than a tragedy. But there are 
lots of shows that are tragedies in live theater and are successful 
(though admittedly for shorter runs than the fun musicals). I think an 
audience allows the separation of the screen (be it big or small) to be 
an insulation from the action and will watch something more tragic than 
they will on the stage. I think that the ending of a good tragedy - be 
it book, stage or screen - leaves us feeling moved, challenged, and/or 
cleansed in some way.
   As for making it some other race or in a kingdom far away, audiences 
(and storytellers of all kinds) throughout the ages have used the 
device of plausible deniability ("They're not really talking about US!. 
See, it's a kingdom far away.") to get the message across. No one likes 
the accusing finger of truth, particularly when it is an ugly truth, 
pointed directly at them. Those receptive to the message will get it, 
those who are not, well, at least we hope they are entertained and 
maybe some of the message will sink in eventually.

> Most of our own recent work has involved very dark journeys with 
> redemptive endings, because right now for me the challenge is to try
> to really *earn* those endings.  How indeed can we make resurrection 
> credible and not just frosting over the cow-pie?  And I have to say
> that even so, I have friends who really don't want to see our work, 
> even the comedy, because the journey itself is just too rocky.
>
> But I don't actually think it has to do with the uplift of the ending. 
>  It's a question of what *is* energizing about the piece. When it 
> works, the act of the telling itself can be redemptive: in its energy, 
> its skill, its depth of perception, its shared humanity - certainly 
> that's what operates in any of the Hans C. Andersen stories.  If we 
> have a strong sense of the presence and the "voice" of the teller, it 
> can hold us in its embrace the way I held my kids when reading them a 
> bedtime story - and I read some hum-dingers, and they survived.
   To me the most engaging stories and characters are ones that are full 
of flaws (as I can identify because I know myself to be full of flaws), 
but that also allow for the hope of victory and/or transformation. 
However, they need not be painful to watch or listen to. The stories of 
H C Andersen are based on a common idea of redemption through the 
struggles and suffering of a journey to a higher place. They don't all 
end in happiness, other than obtaining the transformation to that next 
plane. Yes, it is the shared humanity (even when it is shared with an 
ugly duckling or tin soldier) and the hope of their victory that brings 
us along in their suffering journey.

   I don't think the idea of performing a tragedy is to put the audience 
through the wringer and hang them out to dry, nor is it to manipulate 
them into feeling the tragedy. To me it is more about taking them with 
you through a somewhat treacherous, and perhaps even a bit torturous, 
journey on the way to redemption, conquest, and a measure of defeat. 
Often it does not end well for the lead character or characters, but 
the tale leaves the audience someplace other than despair.

   However, I think this tumultuous time - economic, political, and 
otherwise - may not be the best to attempt to sell a tragedy to an 
audience or a sponsor. I just can't see "Hey, come see a really sad 
show. You'll be glad you did." as a big selling point right now.

   I have a couple of tragedies on my "To Do" list, but I think they 
will start out as vanity projects when I can afford the time and money 
as I can't see my current client and audience base as the target for 
those shows. Somehow I don't see a K-5 and/or family audience going in 
big for the tragic tear jerker. I can get by with a heart warming tear 
jerker, but I think it would require a more mature audience for the 
tragedies.

   Well, that's about enough from me on this for now.

Christopher
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