June 2005  | This Issue

Nathan Thomas
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History

A
s this month's column starts its journey onto the information super-highway, the United States Senate debates the question of procedures used to confirm the nominations to the bench by the Executive.  Said that way, the issue is guaranteed to introduce sleep to the reader in a few swift seconds. Put another way, the honorable members work to figure out how to influence the independent judiciary within the limits set up long before they got on the scene.    

It need not be this way.  There are all sorts of ways in which a justice system could be arranged. For example, we could allow for a system of "tribal" justice in which each family looked out for their own rights as they saw them.  This particular system, having been used by cultures throughout the world at different times, doesn't provide for a great deal of continuous stability. Also, more 'powerful' tribes have "more rights" (by virtue of power) than less 'powerful' tribes.  (Of course, what defines 'power' can be vastly variable.)  That being the case, the Senate muddles through trying to work through its own historic system. 

The point of this is simply this:  history matters. 

Neither this column nor this writer believe that neat, easily defined lessons can be drawn from history.  History ain't a fable by Aesop.  Nevertheless, history matters and can't be ignored.  Worse, the more history is ignored, the more it tends to raise its ugly head. 

That being said, theatre history contains certain trends or facets that keep popping up.  For example, let's say that the great periods of tragedy come from the ancient Greeks, the Elizabethan English, and post-WW II America (which saw the production of the seminal works of Miller, Williams, and O'Neill). All three periods come at the tail end of great military success by the cultures that produced and watched the works. The ancient Greeks led by Athenians -- had defeated the Babylonians at Salamis and had started an early kind of democracy.  And they enjoyed watching stories about the destruction of long ago royals and nobles. The Elizabethan English defeated the navy of the Spanish Empire an empire with strong holdings on multiple continents.  The English enjoyed watching (among other stories) about the destruction wrought by revenge.  Americans helped provide the victory in WW II.  Then they come home and watch stories about the tragedy of everyday folks a salesman, a Southern belle, an Irish immigrant family. 

I don't know what that means.  I don't know what "lesson" to which I could easily verbalize.  But it does mean something, I think. 

Another trend or facet suggests that theatre is not universal. Some societies don't seem to provide evidence of theatre.  (Theatre -- as opposed to something simply theatrical.  Something that appears like theatre doesn't make it theatre.  Likewise, an artificial sweetener isn't sugar.  The sweetener is like sugar but it's not sugar.)  Conversely, it seems once a culture knows or 'has' theatre, theatre can't be destroyed.  Consider that after English religious revolutionaries saw the execution of Charles I, an attempt was made to stamp out theatre in England.  Still Parliament engaged in the business of stamping out plays, interludes and the like years after the theatre had supposedly been "destroyed."  (Why legislate against something that doesn't exist ?)  Likewise, during the so-called "Middle Ages," various leaders worked to stamp out theatre and actors, but with little long-term success. 

Which brings us back to the USA Senate.  The honorable folks ought to be wary.  I can't say I believe in history being "cyclic."  But situations can change.  Those in the majority today could become a minority in the future.  The ability to protect the rights of minorities is something about which everyone should have a care.  We'll see if they get it right. 

POSTSCRIPT

The third (and final?) installment of George Lucas' Star Wars franchise plays this month and probably in a theatre near you!!  A few words about the movie. . . . . 

First, it's a good film.  A ticket-buyer likely will feel that she got her money's worth. It's all there on the screen. 

BUT . . . . 

When the first Star Wars arrived on screens 20-odd years ago, it was different.  For a young guy in a dusty little town in middle America, Star Wars was the adventure that a young guy would want to have.  A young guy with unused and unrecognized talent goes on an adventure to rescue a princess from the lair of an evil villain.  Certainly the look and 'feel' of the movie helped.  But it was the fun of adventure that kept people coming back to the theatre to make the film a blockbuster. 

So I've missed that sense of fun and adventure in Revenge of the Sith.    Everything is very dramatical (drama-like, rather than be actual drama) and Very Important.  Certainly the action is eye-popping.  And the ability to make alien landscapes, people and machine has vastly evolved from those early days.  But the adventure is less fun. 

And I'm left to wonder if that's the movie or my age talking . . . . . .

©2005 Nathan Thomas
©2005 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas has earned his
living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director
stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist
He has a Ph.D. in Theatre and is a member of
the theatre faculty of Alvernia College.

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