Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Comedies or Dramas?

Ahh the great thematic masks.  They represent the wonderful variety in live theater from comedies to dramas.  However, the Comedic mask is in front.  Is this coincidence?  Is one better than the other?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Comedies don't win awards.  But as I reflected on this years Tony Award (yes, I lie in bed and think about the Tony's....doesn't everybody?) I began to realize that that wasn't necessarily true.  If One Man Two Governor's James Cordon beats Death of a Salesman's Philip Seymore Hoffman, then you know the nominators are giving some weight to comedic performances.  I saw the same thing as I realized that the majority of the nominees for featured actor's, led by the spectacular Christian Borle, were comedic.  But even if some of these actors were recognized for their comedic performances, it's the dramatic shows (Clybourne Park, Once, Porgy & Bess, Death of a Salesman) that won best show.  I began to wonder about this and I think that it makes sense.  I think people tend to attribute comedy to the actor and drama to the writer.  I don't know that this is accurate, I feel like the split would be the same, but nevertheless the we feel like it's the actor who makes us laugh and the writer who makes us cry.  But even if this is true, why do we like Comedies or Dramas better?  I'm going to try to look at this from all perspectives: The actor, the spectator, and the critic.

Comedy is easy.  I can't imagine why people think otherwise.  I'll give you that it can be physically taxing, and takes hard work, but when you think about it anyone can be funny.  I bet that yesterday you made someone laugh.  You are probably funny!  See how easy that was?  And imagine how much funnier you'd be if you had a writer?  And what's more, people want to laugh.  They'll be happy to give you a pity laugh at the beginning of the show until they've been warmed up and they'll come back to the show again and again and still laugh at the exact same jokes.  And as an actor it is so nice to be in a comedy because you get instant gratification.  Right there on stage you can hear the audience roaring and it feeds your comedic fire.

Drama is real acting.  I think this statement goes hand in hand with "Comedy is easy".  I think Drama is so much more of a challenge, and therefore so much more fulfilling when done correctly.  This makes it the preferred genre of "real" actors.  Now I say this with some trepidation, for I myself am a predominantly comedic actor.  Not that I haven't had my fair share of heartbreaking emotional breakdowns or dramatic death scene's, but I am most known for my comedic roles.  But what I can say is, in many ways, my dramatic roles have been the most fulfilling.  When people come up to you after a comedy and say that you made them laugh you think, "thanks, but so did the lady at the Publix checkout", but when someone comes up to you telling them that you made them cry (only happened to me in one role) then you feel truly honored. That's why I think every actor, deep down, would love to sink their teeth in a good dramatic role.

Comedy if fun.  You come to the theater (theatre?) to have a good time, and nothing brings a good time quite like a good comedy.  It's lines are so quotable that the best jokes ("I was raised to be charming, not sincere") will circulate through your conversations for years after the show has closed.  Going to a comedy is like going to an amusement park, you have a wonderful time and create a wonderful memory.  It is almost always worth the price of admission and appeals to people of all sorts.

Drama is life changing.  You come to the theatre (theater?) to appreciate art, and nothing is so artistic as a good drama.  When you leave the theatre you tend to be in a haze marveling at what you just saw.  You've been deeply moved and you might have a different view on life, or at least what life could be like.  If comedies are like a visit to an amusement park, then visiting a drama is like attending an art museum.  You take your time so as to get the full effect.  You marvel at the detail and precision of the artist (actor) and the genius of the inspiration.  You look hard for symbolism and try to understand all of the subtleties.

Comedy is cheap.  Although critics are human beings, and therefore love to laugh, they are likely human beings with "refined pallets" and therefore have a taste for "the nicer things in life".  If you want to have a successful comedy you have to give it a way to distinguish itself, to be set apart.  In the past decade only a handful of shows have won for Best Musical and even less have one Best Play, and each of them have a defining feature.  The most common of these trademarks tends to be shock value.  The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q, and The Producers all shocked their audiences and subsequently won Tony Awards.  Now, I'm not saying that these shows don't have value beyond their shock value, they all have good writing and some great songs, but I do think it's a trend too evident to be ignored.

Drama is refined.  When I picture critics I imagine the kinds of folks who appreciate operas, wear fine clothes and are generally refined.  In other words: "they drink champagne, entertain tourists at their fine hotels and tell their servants, 'polish up the Mercedes'!"  (Can anyone tell me what the quote is from?).  I think this is why they like Drama's so much.  Drama is so much more subtle, it can often be best enjoyed by the theatrical geniuses, not the uneducated masses.  Obviously, shows that win Tony's are generally popular, but there have been several instances (*cough Frank Wildhorn cough*) where fans thoroughly enjoy shows that critics seem to find "beneath them".  Of course, I don't want to generalize all critics as stuck up snobs, most of them have incredible insight and I trust their opinion.  But let's just say they aren't perfect representations of what the people like. (Don't believe me?  The Broadwayworld.com Audience Choice awards found that Godspell should've won best revival of a musical).

So there it is.  Whether your an actor, a spectator, or a critic there are pros and cons to both comedies and dramas.  Personally I love both.  I can go from listening to Titanic: The Musical one moment to 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee the next without even batting an eye.  I think they both have their place in the theater and personally I shall do everything I can to be apart of both for as long as I am able.

Do you agree with me?  Do you prefer comedies or dramas?  Was I a bit unfair to the critics?  Should I finally let the Godspell thing go?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  If you comment below I can absolutely promise you that I shall read it and probably respond.  Oh, and also, for those of you who participate in our polls:  It may interest you to know that you found Newsies the most snubbed at the Tony Awards (with Godspell and Bonnie & Clyde tying for second).  Apparently best Score and Choreography wasn't enough for you guys?