Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Community Theatre CATS!
Pretty much can't be done. According to one acclaimed costume designer - and this must intoned in a deep, throaty, Katharine Hepburn educated drawl - "There can be only ONE fat cat."
I'm not saying that there aren't svelte dancer bodies in community theatre. I'm just saying that there aren't enough of them that you'd want to see encased in Lycra, rolling around a stage attempting to lick their nether regions. Community theatre musicals tend to be filled with middle-aged bodies who have been through life, have found their mates and therefore no longer feel the need to go to the gym and keep toned. Your average community theatre production of CATS! would have a cast full of Grizabellas, Old Deuteronomys and Jennyanydots.
There are certain shows that you just can't do in our small provincial town. Even in 2012, most of our residents are the WASPiest people you'll ever see. We can be chock a block with whores, pimps and crooks on our stage, but try to have a balanced portrayal of the real world with real skin tones? It ain't gonna happen here. Sure we can do Little Shop of Horrors, but Chiffon, Crystal & Ronnette are not going to be black. South Pacific, West Side Story? Ain't happening unless it's completely colour-blind casting. Although some of the older generation wouldn't even pause at the thought of "throwing on a little more makeup" on the Puerto Ricans. Hairspray? Not a chance. Ours is the town where, when we were looking for diversity for our cast of hippies in Hair, I went up to a stranger on the school playground, who happened to be black, and ask if she could sing. Instead of slapping me across the face for racial profiling, thank God she took the question in the spirit in which it was asked, and 'dropped trou' with the rest of the cast.
Basically, we're stuck doing theatre by and for white people (which if you really think about it - is what happens - even on Broadway). Gypsy, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Sweeney Todd, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas... Decades from now, when the rights to The Lion King come up, unless it's an all-white cast who somehow manage to be fabulous puppeteers AND dancers, it won't be staged here. Sure, community theatres can get away with Fiddler on the Roof - although the closest synagogue is a 1/2 hour away in any direction from our town, and most productions think nothing of having actors in 'Jewface" with over-the-top wigs and/or facial hair. And you know why? Because there just aren't enough Jews in our neck of the woods to be offended.
So the way we get to push the envelope? We do Jesus Christ Superstar every ten years or so - which as late as 2002, still had the religious right protesting the show's blasphemous nature. (Apparently Jesus would never want to rock out.) Rocky Horror comes out every now and again - and we've done The Full Monty. Oh, the titillation of naked or nearly naked neighbours onstage! They just aren't black neighbours and you still wouldn't want to see them encased in Lycra.