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My theatrical career

When I was in elementary school, I took classes at The Playhouse, the local theater-and-school. That's how I met mutabbal, my friend of longest standing. Each class culminated in a show we'd developed over the course of the class, performed for family and friends. The year I met mutabbal, we performed "The Practical Princess".

Presumably it was this fledgling theatrical experience which led me to write a play in fifth grade. It was a musical. It was science fiction. It was called The Rocket Vehicle. My fifth grade glass performed it. My early inclinations - musicals, science fiction - were already going strong, although I have never written another play since.

My entire theater career culminated the following year with my musical theater debut in London, as a singing, plague-carrying sewer rat, part of a student chorus in a semi-professional performance called Flo of the Fleet. It was a history of London, told via the history of the river Fleet, now a sewer, and best known for Fleet Street, which crosses it not far from its outlet into the Thames. My involvement was a by-product of being involved in Drama Club at my secondary school. (Our drama teacher played one of the two lead rats.) And I haven't been in another piece of theater since.

I teach, though, which involves a certain amount of theatricality, performing for an audience, and requiring a clear speaking voice. For the first semester I taught my own full-fledged class, I had butterflies in my stomach every day before lecture. I have yet to figure out how to incorporate musicals sensibly into history of technology, however. (There are non-sensible ways. I bet I could put together a whole course based on "history of tech as portrayed in musicals", but would there really be an audience for it?)


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 6th, 2007 11:15 am (UTC)
That's so interesting that you make the connection between teaching and acting. I had theatrical aspirations as a young woman, and it's in fact my greatest regret that I never took it as far as I could have. But - teaching does satisfy some element of that impulse for me, too.
And I think I might pay to see a history of tech portrayed in musicals!
Oct. 6th, 2007 01:48 pm (UTC)
I was SOOOOO envious of the sewer rat role. Acting in London sounded so, so, so much cooler than whatever I was doing back in West Des Moines.

Its been decades but finally I've put the envy to rest - thanks in no small part to the two rats I was unhappily hosting in my apartment earlier this summer :P

I think often about the theatricality of teaching - especially the opening bit. Actors who come on and convince the audience immediately of the character that they play - so that the audience sees the character and doesn't keep looking for breaks and wobbles on the actor's part - have much more freedom, I think - and the same goes for teachers. I find that when I act as if my presence at the front of the classroom is exactly where I belong - not arrogantly, not nervously, but at ease with my command of the material - my students are more than willing to see me in the same light.

It makes me less anxious about the overall project of teaching - and it seems to convince students to see anything I don't know or forget (like the relationship between the early Ottomans and the late Byzantine Empire, which someone asked me about on Thursday :() as a small thing, rather than as something that makes them question my competency overall :).
Oct. 6th, 2007 02:34 pm (UTC)
I agree about teaching and theater. When I was in high school, I was absolutely terrified about getting up in front of a class. After taking a couple of theater classes, though, and finally them through my head, though, that just disappeared. It's like my whole worldview shifted from being the victim of the audience's attention into having complete power over them. I was really startled at how easy getting up to teach lessons was afterward.
Oct. 6th, 2007 02:44 pm (UTC)
*raises hand* I'd take it! But I'll take anything on musicals.

How about the history of technology *for* the stage? If you look at the development of theatrical sets, from things like swinging lanterns and manually moved lazy-susans to a mechanically involved show like Wicked or Mary Poppins, there has to be some fodder there.
Oct. 6th, 2007 03:45 pm (UTC)
Ooh! That sounds like an excellent idea!

And sci-fi musicals? Two of my very favourite things too.
Oct. 7th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
Surely there's already been at least a handful of classes taught on theater tech history? Theater history is enough of a discipline that I'd think there're already some out there. (If not, it needs doing!)
Oct. 8th, 2007 03:11 pm (UTC)
Well, there wasn't at york, but maybe a school with a stronger theatre program. I'd have taken it if it was offered, and I don't usually like tech courses.
Oct. 6th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
Where there's a will there's a way! ... and teaching is definitely a performing profession. Last semester I both lay on the floor and sang "Cupid, draw back your bow," for what at the time seemed like obvious reasons ...

For some reason, Into the Woods teaches extremely well in tandem with epic.
Oct. 6th, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)
Also, the sewer rat thing was the best thing I have ever heard.

One of the musicals I was in in school was Alice in Wonderland. Guess who I played?!
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 7th, 2007 07:28 pm (UTC)
I think I did sing it for you!

I am very open-minded when it comes to just what qualifies as a technology. If it's a tool or technique of any sort, I'll willing to count it. So technologic plot-hinges might include...

The Wizard of Oz: ruby slippers, Oz puppet, hot air balloon
Wicked: hat, same as above, (also bubblemobile)
Annie Get Your Gun: Guns, skin-lighening techniques
Sweeney Todd: razors, barbar chair (I haven't seen it in ages, so can't be more specific. Pie-making techniques?)
Hairspray: see title; also, t.v.

For a whole more obviously relevant musical, Take Flight which premiered (I think?) this summer in London. It's about the history of flight.
Oct. 8th, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC)
or how bout a musical on the history of technology? We could call it Technology!: The Musical

Everyone would leave the theater humming such show stoppers as "The Revolution Industriale" and "Riding through the internet tubes with my baby"
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )