Myself and Musical Theatre Charlotte Poulton Dowen
What is musical theatre? Musical theatre is a form of theatre that combines song, dance, spoken dialogue and music. The emotional context of the show- love, humour, anger, jealousy, sadness- is portrayed through words, music, movement and technical aspect is all combined to create ‘a musical’. They have gained the name ‘musicals’ from the 20 th century, with the first musical that was staged in 1866 ‘The Black Crook’.
‘ Musicals’ Musicals are performed all over the world, with the main venues for putting on a high budget production being the West End in London and Broadway in New York. Smaller, cheaper shows are performed in smaller fringe theatres off Broadway and West End. Other productions may include; touring theatre companies, amateur dramatic societies and school productions. Music has been part of dramatic presentations since ancient times, modern musical theatre emerged in the 19th century, with the works of Gilbert and Sullivan making it become more popular.
Popular Musicals Early in the 20th century, the Princess Theatre musicals and other popular shows like ‘Of Thee I Sing’ were artistic steps forward and led to groundbreaking works such as ‘Show Boat’ and ‘Oklahoma!’. Some of the most famous and iconic musicals through the decades that followed have included ‘West Side Story’, ‘Hair’, ‘A Chorus Line’, ‘Les Misérables’, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Rent’, ‘The Producers’ and ‘Wicked’. This could start the debate about whether musical theatre is seen as high culture or popular culture.
Musical Theatre in the Past London’s first playhouse was built at Shoreditch in 1576 and had the wholly appropriate name of The Theatre. Prior to this, plays had been performed in ad hoc venues such as courtyards, inn-yards or spacious private homes. When the lease on The Theatre ran out in 1597, its industrious owner Richard Burbage transported its timber across the Thames and used it to build the first (of three) Globe theatre on the South Bank. The Globe opened in 1599 with a company led by Burbage, who established himself as the first of London’s great actor/impresarios. Burbage was the first man to play Hamlet, King Lear and Othello. Theatre is seen as more high culture than musical theatre, this is because theatre is more about plays and acting where musical theatre involves acting, dancing and singing.
West End Today's West End began taking shape in the 19th Century when many of the imposing and beautiful theatre buildings still standing today were erected and theatregoing became highly fashionable among the middle and upper classes. The backbone of the West End was finally put in place towards the end of the century when Shaftesbury Avenue was created and theatres were soon built along it
Why go to the theatre? People who go the theatre can be seen to have a greater and wider understanding of the world that’s around them. Sometimes people use going the theatre or even doing shows as a ways of conforming into a group. The Asch Conformity Experiments, is a psychological theory that is based on how people who follow unspoken rules or behavioural attitudes of the social group they belong to. If people out of the group have an interest in theatre, then after a while the other members of the group will conform and also go the theatre.
Glee Glee is a musical comedy-drama television show that focuses on a school glee club in America. The members of this Glee club are all in high school so the viewers see them dealing with sexuality, relationships and social issues. They sing pop songs and also songs from musicals. This mix between the two different song types makes Glee more popular culture than high culture, therefore making the songs they sing also popular culture.
Popularity of Theatre Popularity of the theatre and musicals in particular has become more popular culture now due to Glee introducing people to the songs. Theatre was once seen as a ‘high culture’ activity because it cost lots of money and you could appreciate the show more if you had been educated. But now, because of Glee, it has become more popular and breaking boundaries between high culture and popular culture.
My Interest with Musical Theatre I have active interest in musical theatre, I do 3 shows a year and have been doing this since I was 8. One of my first experiences with musical theatre, was when I was 6 and went to go ‘My Fair Lady’. Being interested in musical theatre is a way for me to belong to a group. I like this because everybody in my group has the same interests and values so I can relate to them and their interests.
Goffman’s Theory Identity within musical theatre is important to the people performing as they rely on applying different characters or ‘masks’ to their selves through their performances. This is relevant to Goffman’s Theory that people apply a mask when meeting people and keep a part of their selves away from the people they are with. This can be applied to doing shows because the actor is another character to their selves, they put on this ‘mask’ and the people watching the show see them as the character and not as their own personality. This could be related to a role I played in my last production Godspell where I had to be a tightrope walker, I had to put on a ‘mask’ because I had no experience with tight rope walking, so I had to apply a character to myself to perform for the show.
T.V. Reality Shows In 2007 Andrew Lloyd Webber joined a judges panel to find his Maria in ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’ This show was searching for a young lady to play Maria in the stage production of ‘Sound of Music.’ This changed the value of musical theatre into popular culture as it was aired on the television and it was easily accessed to a larger group of people.
T.V. Reality Shows The contestants in reality shows like How do you solve a problem like Maria, I’d do anything and Any dream will do all are associated with the gate keeping theory. People in the media use this to feed information of their selves they want the public to know and then keep back the personal information that they don’t want them to know. They are in control of what people know about them so this makes it easy for them to adjust and change in different situations because people don’t know all aspects of them.
Value of Musical Theatre The value of musical theatre is different for different people. If someone appreciates the theatre and enjoys seeing shows they will have a higher value of it than someone who doesn’t go to the theatre and doesn’t have an interest in them.
Theatre vs. Musical Theatre Theatre can be valued differently to musical theatre, theatre is seen as plays and musical theatre is more focused on singing and dancing. Theatre is seen more as a high culture activity as higher educated people will appreciate Shakespeare for example or opera. But musical theatre is seen more as a popular culture activity, its more accessible as amateur dramatics companies also do shows as well as shows on the West End and Broadway. So its cheaper than theatre and also its easy to understand so you don’t need to be educated to a high level to appreciate it. VS.
Escapism within Theatre People who are involved within amateur dramatics groups and also people who go to the theatre may use it as a way of ‘escapism’ from their normal day to day life. Shows are fantasy worlds created by someone, when people are doing the show they live in that show and this is seen as unrealistic and not a reality. But someone who goes to amateur dramatics could identify with people who also go the rehearsals, this links to group identity. They may gravitate towards people who share their interests and traits and fit in well with the group of people.
Escapism within Theatre From personal experience, I use amateur dramatics to escape from school and its pressures. I go to these groups because I fit in well with everybody there because we have similar interests, and because there isn't anybody from school there I feel like I can be more myself, than the ‘mask’ I put on when I’m in school.