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am I just being a purist...???

  • 1.  am I just being a purist...???

    Posted 04-04-2019 09:44

    I'm a stickler for having my musical theatre students sing what the composer/lyricist put on the page.
    I have extremely talented students who have taken to "adjusting," music all the time, and it gets worse.

    It is so bad now - that students who are the most ridiculously talented - parrot what is already out there.  I'm struggling with getting them to understand that just because you can, doesn't mean you should... because you will be compared to, so and so.
    It drives me nuts, because it's not like they are assimilating small things into their performances - they have copied inflections, ennunciations, breaths, articiulations, tone quality, exactly as it has been recorded.  Then when its time to fix notes, adjust - they are upset, because "their practice has been in vain- it was already perfect."

    Any advice friends?


    Tallen Olsen
    Drama & Musical Director
    East Windsor Regional School District, Hightstown High School
    Mount Holly NJ

  • 2.  RE: am I just being a purist...???

    Posted 04-04-2019 10:34
    You might try having them work the lyrics as though they were a monologue before they work the music. I have mine do this so they can find their own version of the character and find their moments. You may also want to give them choices of pieces to work instead of letting them pick on their own for a bit to start to reduce your problems.

    You could also point out that the work that's been in "vain" is because they are not making their own choices and copying someone's work is stealing. You can be inspired by someone but trying to recreate it is inappropriate... and against what theatre is. Theatre is about creating original moments each time something is done. And, since your director is going to lead your performance the way they want, trying to anticipate it without speaking to them is counter-productive.

    Shira Schwartz
    Chandler Unified School District
    Chandler AZ

  • 3.  RE: am I just being a purist...???

    Posted 04-04-2019 10:46
    Edited by David Simpson 04-04-2019 10:52

    Absolutely not. I think you are right on target. I find it very frustrating. In the day and age of YouTube and online "research", it can really hurt as much as it helps at times. I get this all the time from the production design stand point. People show me a video of a Broadway or major regional theatre production and want to copy what they did with 5% of their budget, student labor, a week to complete it, and a facility not nearly as well equipped to do it in. Personally, I'd prefer if no one would watch anything online until production decisions are made and the show is well on its feet. But, I realize that is terribly unrealistic. I have always felt teaching the right process is just as important as any final outcome.


    David Simpson
    Performing Arts Center Manager
    East China Schools
    East China MI

  • 4.  RE: am I just being a purist...???

    Posted 04-04-2019 11:47
    I dread any conversation that starts with "I watched the show on Youtube and..."

    Whenever a student tells me that they found a video of whatever we happen to be working on, I tell them the best thing they can do is NOT watch it and to follow their instincts and make their own creative decisions.  I've found most students are receptive to that.

    Derek Friederich
    Thespian Troupe 417/Speech Coach/Jr. High Drama/Fine Arts Center Technical Director
    Postville IA

  • 5.  RE: am I just being a purist...???

    Posted 04-04-2019 12:24
    The purist in me agrees wholeheartedly with this. Both in terms of creative property and in the interest of the artist's own creative development, it's so important to come to it fresh and make your own performance that's uniquely yours.

    Then, I have to say that the number one "complaint" I receive when we do a show that has a film or TV adaptation: "She/he/they/you didn't do it like in the movie." I don't ever remember someone praising a performance for its originality and "uniquely-yours-ness." When we did Mary Poppins, our Mr. Banks got criticized because the actor didn't wear a mustache.

    At least where I am, audiences don't like to be surprised or challenged over-much. They won't come to a show they haven't heard of, and the more well-known the movie is, the better our box office is (and yet, the more critiques I get for the inconsistencies between our show and the film).

    I hate the comparisons, and I don't always give in to them, but if our Jasmine works for weeks to channel Lea Salonga before even coming to Aladdin tryouts, I'm not inclined to force her to scrap that work.

    Part of what theater DOES is to open people's minds and opinions, but if they don't want that, do you give it to them anyway because it's good for them?

    (All that said - Shira, I really value your comments in this thread, and plan to bring them into my own rehearsals. Baby steps.)

    Josh Kauffman
    Winfield AL

  • 6.  RE: am I just being a purist...???

    Posted 04-05-2019 09:40
    whenever someone says to me that we "didn't do it like the movie"...I always smile and say, "you're right...thanks for noticing that!"

    Angelea Deane
    Theatre Arts Teacher
    Elkton Middle School
    Elkton VA

  • 7.  RE: am I just being a purist...???

    Posted 04-05-2019 08:58
    If you're being a purist, then you're in good company.

    I don't have the references to hand here at school, but Jerome Kern complained that no one heard his songs performed properly unless they saw his musicals in the theatre.  He generally hated dance-band, live radio, and recorded interpretations of most of his songs because of the way the arrangements changed what he had written.

    Meanwhile, Richard Rodgers - I believe in his autobiography, Musical Stages - maintained that he wanted his songs sung strictly in rhythm as he composed them, and he particularly opposed the practice of back-phrasing.

    If you're working with students in a classroom setting, you could use the power of the gradebook, and indicate that students who indulge in copying other performers' specific inflections will be graded down on their performances.  If we're talking about students performing in an ungraded extracurricular production, you could indicate that you're unlikely to cast such students again in the future (if you have enough castable students to be able to follow through on such a statement).  At the same time, it seems a pity to resort to punitive measures in performing-arts instruction when what you're really trying to do is set your students free as interpreters.

    I say keep fighting the good fight, urging your students to work from the text rather than from YouTube, etc., and to be original in their interpretations.  You might not convince every one of them, especially not now, but some will get your message and flourish, and others will realize later on the truth of what you've taught.  I remember with great embarrassment my own hubris back in high school, when I sometimes foolishly thought that I knew more (or better) than some of my teachers!  If only I could apologize to some of them today ...

    Jeff Grove
    Theatre Teacher, Aesthetics Department Chair
    Stanton College Preparatory School
    Jacksonville FL

  • 8.  RE: am I just being a purist...???

    Posted 04-05-2019 12:50
    My response to such arrogance (depending on the situation) might be, "Perfect? Really? Then there's obviously nothing I can say or do to help you. Next."