The Broad is Back!

April 20, 2008

The play’s the thing

Filed under: American culture,New Broads,students — by maggiec @ 8:22 pm

I go AWOL far too often, but that’s what happens when I have to actually work for a living.  It really screws up my writing time.  But this is a topic that’s been pressing on me, waiting to get out, and I just haven’t done it.  So here I am, so let’s go.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a number of performances of Othello put on by students at my college.   Overall, it was brilliant.  Othello, Iago, Desdemona, Emilia, Cassio and Roderigo were played by incredibly strong actors.  The set was a gorgeous Art Deco splendor, the fight scenes were realistically choreographed, and when the cast was at the top of its game, it was clearly a professional production in every sense of the word.

But to quote William himself, “there’s the rub”–that phrase “when the cast was at the top of its game.”  Granted, they are students.  Granted this is an amateur production.  But many of the kids in the cast want to go pro.  But too many nights they phoned in their performances.  Why?  Sometimes I think it’s just that they got cocky.

I don’t want to pick on them.  They are my students, which means I care about them.  But I think my experience with the play can work as a microcosm vision of American society since I’ve returned.

There were nights when I thought, “Who do they think they are?  Do they think that because they are talented to the point of being gifted, because they are blessed with many gifts, that they are above the rest of the peons?  Are diligence and drudgery for the poor schmucks who perhaps aren’t as genetically lucky?”  Harsh, I know, but I was angry.

I truly believe that those who are gifted owe more back than other people.  I also quaintly believe that the theater is a sacred place, and those who work in the theater have a sacred responsibility to those who attend. Where this comes from, I don’t know, but I do know that when I’m working in a theater it’s always a sacred time.  It can be a crazy, insane, horrible time, as well, but at the end of the day, I’m there in service.

I know for sure that on more than one night, there were people in the audience who had never been to a Shakespeare play before.  Once or twice, I know there were people attending who had never been to a live play before.  Those who came on a great night had their lives changed.  They were exposed to something that they’d never experienced before, and hopefully, something was ignited in them, a desire to feel that feeling again, to attend the theater again.  This may sound like hyperbole, but I know it’s not.  I talk to people all of the time.  I had students tell me how exciting the experience was, how they want to try it again.

But what of the ones who were there on an “off” night?  I know of one at least who went home thinking “what’s all the fuss about?”  The responsibility for their less than stellar theater experience rests solidly on the shoulders on the actors.  And to quote Will again, “and therein hangs a tale”.

Responsibility.  It’s become one of my favorite words.  And it’s the one quality I see missing from American life since I’ve returned.  Few want to take responsibility and fewer yet it seems want to fulfill the responsibilities thrust upon them.  A number of actors had a responsibility to their audience that they chose to ignore.  They’d already won praise.  They were almost done with the run.  They were perhaps ready to graduate and move on to bigger and better things.  Maybe there were backstage tensions exploding onto the stage.  But at the end, I guess they thought, “Why bother doing the job right all the way through to the end?”

Part of me feels cruel having to say these things, but these things need to be said.

I also saw far too many instances of prima donna-ish behavior from both males and females.  When I saw that, all I could think is “honey, you have so not earned that!  You are not that great.”  Of course, we aren’t allowed to say things like that out loud anymore.  But when I see students, albeit talented students, treating “lesser lights” like lesser beings, that just boils my blood.

Meryl Streep doesn’t pull that.  Al Pacino doesn’t, either.

The teacher in me hopes this is a phase that will pass with a gentle dose of reality.  The harsh part of me hopes they get metaphorically slapped down a bit next time out of the gate.  Those graduating seniors are big big fish in what is a very small pond.  No matter how great they are, there are hundreds of really great kids graduating all over the country, and all of them are heading to NY, LA, Chicago and Boston to try to compete for the same handful of jobs.  Only the strong will survive, but that doesn’t mean the ruthless.  Good people make it to the top and nice guys don’t always finish last.



  1. After reading your blog posts about random unsettling thoughs, and a power-mad end of semester, and thinking about our past conversation, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

    The question of where did this come from is easy to answer–This generation… MY generation… has never known suffering. Not real suffering, like past generations. In WWI + II, where there was a great, global war against an undeniably evil regime, there was suffering. For a cause, but suffering nonetheless. Vietnam, there was real, true suffering. Unwilling soldiers going into a directionless war, to fight for causes unknown, and yes, perhaps to die as well. Since the 70s, we haven’t had any great war, any great travesty (unless you consider Palahniuk’s words from Fight Club- We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression.) The Iraqi war is playing in a sandbox (not to disrespect the dead and wounded) when you compare it to prior conflicts.

    The parallels between Iraq and Vietnam are numerous, except for the one thing that would absolutely mobilize extreme action immediately–Draft. Without a draft, without really considering the possibility of war viscerally, the people (specifically, students) will never rise up in outrage. Part of the reason Vietnam was so offensive to our sensibilities was that it was a war fought largely by the unwilling. People become much more interested in the value of a war if it is their son or daughter that could be pulled from their life, and placed into fatigues, handed a gun, and told go shoot the differently colored people in this far off land. (As an aside, isn’t it odd that only men have to sign up for the Selective Service to get college aid? There’s some inequality for you.)

    I’m digressing, I’m sure you know your history. Kids and young adults today have not known suffering, and are thus extracted from the visceral nature of politics, society, and the world itself. It is almost as if they are living in a fantasy land of sex, drugs, money, and appearance rather than in the muddy, gritty, sometimes-nasty-but-all-we-have world of reality. I don’t buy for one minute that these kids are a product of their environment. Certainly, the media and societal pressures influence the decisions that people make, but in the end, one must accept individual choice as the reason for this lifestyle. People are this way because they know no differently, and can imagine no differently, and thus given a false set of choices (a short set, at that). But! There is no reason that they cannot stop and consider their lives, themselves, and figure out a different way. That’s where personal accountability comes into play, and defeats the argument that I’m-just-a-product-of-my-environment-please-don’t-blame-me-for-being-this-way. I see that as cowardice. The inability of one’s self to be accountable for your own actions (or inactions!), shows a distinct lack of an ancient, bygone term–character. I think that is the central problem to American youth, is the lack of substance and character (and you goddamn kids better get off my lawn, too!).

    Accountability. Character. Substance. Passive vs. active, weakness vs. strength, conformity vs. individuality. Today’s youth has become passive, weak, and conforming, but I’m not sure what we can do about it. I pride myself on presenting solutions, not just articulating a problem, but for this I am at a loss. How does one fix such a widespread problem? I run into this issue with my girlfriend. She has just started a new job, and doesn’t see any reason why she should try harder than her fellow employees. I’m aghast at some of the things she says, trying to explain away concerns I raise. Example- “It doesn’t matter if I dress up or not[She works at Macy’s. Ironitastical!!], because other people don’t. Why should I dress up and be uncomfortable when customers and managers don’t care what I look like?” Newsflash kid… they DO care, and are evaluating you on it, even if it isn’t in The Rules. I see our society moving towards a place where the bare minimum is what is done, and those who put forth any effort whatsoever will shine so brightly compared to the dimness of their peers that they will rise to prominence. Hopefully. Hoping, rather..

    On your reference to Rome from a post I can’t seem to find right now-
    The US is very much like the Roman Empire as it began its long, slow decline. Undoubtedly, there were voices in Rome who cried out against the corruption and apathy that led to Rome’s undoing, although the real fall of Rome is still debated. As a metaphor for the US, it works, and I don’t know if the Fall of Rome is a -bad- thing. Perhaps a reformation is what the US needs… Dynastic China had a period that repeats itself every 300 years or so, where the old corrupt empire was swept out by revolutionary force. I’m not quite advocating revolution, but for any real, sweeping change, the people will have to be motivated. What motivates best is unhappiness, and a great desire to do better, and a great desire for -change-. Until things get much worse, I don’t really see them getting much better because all in all, things are still very cozy and comfy in the US.

    Comment by T.A. Newton — June 17, 2008 @ 8:48 am |Reply

  2. Wow, I hit a nerve, didn’t I? GREAT! That’s what I love. You should read Cullen Murphy’s Are We Rome? He puts it better than I do, but we definitely are on the same page.

    Societal forces–can we blame them? Yes, we can when the forces are the parents. Your generation is my son’s generation, and I see too many of my peers are horrible parents for all good reasons. As a mom, I understand the desire not to let my child experience pain and disappointment. But I also realize that that is not realistic. That’s how we learn and grow. So yeah, it’s the parents’ fault.

    A lot of my generation see me as a draconian parent. I’m not, really, and my son is no where near perfect. But I try. Learning to dress well, present yourself well, take responsibility, that’s all important. I see my students come to class in clothing that makes me question their professionalism or self image. I’m not talking tee shirts and jeans. That’s fine. But pajamas? Shirts with degrading messages about themselves or other people? They don’t care what I think about them, and clothes are not part of the grade. But what about when they come to me for letters of recommendation?

    As you can see, I could write a book about this. Oh wait, that’s what I’m doing. Not really. But the second book I’m gonna write as soon as I finish the one I’m really working on is something along these lines. And there will be a class slant to it, as well. What frustrated me so much this year is that people were content to settle. Uh-Oh, This is turning into a blog. Let me think about this and I’ll be back!

    Comment by maggiec — June 17, 2008 @ 12:53 pm |Reply

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