But while the
education of students can certainly be enhanced by a greater and more
explicit focus on creativity and philosophical frameworks, so too can
the wider society benefit from an embedding of challenging and
disciplined artistic presentation from partnerships of students,
teachers and professional industry practitioners.
If we pose a
few questions, we are forced to consider the contradictions in our
thinking regarding the arts.
Do we take
our creative investments and our arts seriously? Or are they seen as
side show frills; devices to keep the kids off the streets and our
population numbed into silence? This is a loaded and rhetorical
question with answers that are counter intuitive. When we hear
answers such as "oh the arts are so important; where would we be
without a sense of fun!" or "the arts provide us with a
balance to core academic subjects" or "the arts are good
for the economy" or "the arts are an outlet for
expression" we must ask "Are we serious?"
A work of art
can simply be a product of self-expression; a kind of narcissistic
exploration of self and cultural identity in a way that has little
relationship to any objective consideration of reality and connection
to the world. Seen in this way, questions of art, creativity and
connotations of "serious" consideration are simply an
annoyance. Theatre (or for that matter any art) can only be relevant
in so far as it gives a kind of sensuous gratification. Does it
simply touch the emotions and make us laugh or cry or fulfill some
personal or group affirmation? In this light, exhibitionism is
mistaken as talent; art is confused with therapy; thought is replaced
with diversion or distraction. And it is no wonder that the arts are
under attack from some political and cultural forces and constantly
being marginalized within education!
from a "distraction" or "narcissism" position,
schools and community groups so often choose to present rehashed
versions of American musicals awash with sentimentality and immediate
connection with egoistic and "me me me" or
"cliche" values. They fulfill emotional and basic skills
requirements of participants and tend to pander to a societal wish
for simplicity and escape from reality. This said, such
productions may also be used to extend student skills and approaches
while providing a kind of focus for community. After all, beneath
even the fluffiest musical lies a serious intent that drove the
composers, writers and original producers. It is probably unfair to
the originators of these works that so little dramaturgical effort
goes into their reconstruction. It is as if the stars in the eyes of
those choosing to present these works blind them to any real
connection the musical may have to their contemporary audience and
production company. Consideration of how and where connection exists
may provide valid reasons for selection. Similar considerations come
into play when choosing to present a classic play text from
Shakespeare or other significant writers from the canon.
to approach Shakespeare's "The Taming Of The Shrew" simply
from a Narcissistic perspective would affirm the kinds of sexism and
even misogyny still prevalent within our cultural surroundings. In
2014 Daramalan Theatre Company (a theatre group from within a
Canberra High School / College) chose to present the play. To base it
simply within the limited perspectives of young students struggling
with their own sense of identity and belonging would leave it open to
cliché or simply a less critical framework. In deciding to
adopt a dramaturgical approach, DTC has applied serious approaches to
art and cultural studies.
Taming Of The Shrew" was approached with an analysis of
historical and contemporary Western meanings contained in the text.
It could not be assumed that the viewpoints and world views contained
within the work of 400 years ago were simply historical phenomena. In
today's world there is a growing tolerance of those same sorts of
attitudes and cultural understandings. Beneath the comic exterior of
the show lies some of these darker aspects that we have attempted to
reveal. By heightening awareness of the serious side of theatre, the
company was confronted by choices in presentation that are just as
pressing as any choices facing us in the shaping of a national curriculum.
"The Taming Of The Shrew" there is a suggestion that males
have a duty to instruct and nurture females to bring them to a
heightened awareness or level of maturity and acceptance within the
confined social structure. It is a bit like the necessity of
"falcons" to train their young by depriving them of food
and offering harsh discipline to get them to comply. Women are thus
perceived as lower on the species scale than men. Such views still
persist in religious teachings and in many social contexts. To simply
play out the comedy and affirm such views would simply affirm the
validity of such views. Yet most contemporary productions of "The
Taming Of The Shrew" do just that.
There is a
sense of irony that is played out in most productions. But in viewing
the explanations offered by a number of women who played the role of
Kate, it is evident that the conflict between the genders is simply
the natural order of things and something of a game. It assumes that
women secretly are looking for the man who will tame and protect
them; placing them in a "dolls' house" as illustrated by
Ibsen in his famous work. Theatre that perpetrates this myth betrays
everything that women have fought for in terms of equality and
significance over the past two hundred years. It makes forced
marriage, FGM and glass ceilings in employment acceptable and even
part of the natural order of things.
. . . and for
some, even raising these points is an annoyance!
approaching the play, it is then necessary to consider every sentence
and every scene as if it were new; as if it had never been presented
before. What do WE now consider to be options for Kate and how do we
see her as a protagonist over-coming the obstacles that confront her?
In the text, she is not so unruly or shrewish as it may seem. She is
angry. She is frustrated. She is determined. Are such traits in need
of restraining? Or are they to see resolution and resolve in some way?
simply approaching the work in a narcissistic way where we extol the
skills, beauty and cleverness of our presentation, we need to find a
suitable dramaturgy on which to base our artistic choices. I suggest
this is not done enough in theatre. Yet it is in student theatre that
theatrical exploration has most opportunity to advance intellectual
paradigms through which society and the human condition can best be
undertaken. The final scene in "The Taming Of The Shrew"
can turn taming into victory while challenging the absurdity of the
male domination of women. But it can't emerge from nowhere.
Theatre Company engaged a Dramaturg who worked over a seven month
period on research into the contemporary issues contained in the
text. Judicious cutting of the text while not interfering with the
actual integrity of the words meant that a platform was created for
theatrical creating that had its basis firmly in the present. And so
the final scene came and the audience were deadly silent in
anticipation of what was to resolve.
had forgotten about Sly after the first scene. By having him
re-emerge and view the scene through 16th century eyes meant Kate's
decision in 2014 was powerful and frightening. And it contrasted
something of the gentler relationship held between her sister Bianca
and her husband Lucentio. The final "Kiss me Kate" produced
an altogether different meaning than perhaps in most previous productions.
This is where
the real value of student theatre can be found. The propensity for it
to work in tandem with teachers, industry professionals and students
to explore and negotiate meaning through theatre is something that
should be treasured. It only needs the confidence to step beyond
Narcissus and the binds of blinkered and tunnel-visioned notions of
"expression" in order to provide a huge ripple effect in
all the communities through which it thrives.
Have a look
here at the final speech from "The Taming Of The Shrew":