Performing Arts

Rationales for 2022-2023 Theatre Season

Guys and Dolls: Addressing Outdated Societal Relationships for a Modern Audience

The goal of the St. Andrew's Theatre program is to always provide the best possible musical theatre experience for our students. In doing so, we’ve looked at numerous potential shows and discussed the pros and cons of each show. We eventually decided that we would view each show through a set criteria that we're trying to achieve in producing next year’s musical. The first and most important criteria is attempting to find a show that will allow our students to be most successful. Does it play to the strengths of our students and their voices and abilities? The next criteria was how community friendly the show would be for our St Andrew’s community. Of course, we also take into consideration production costs, how it will continue to develop our musical theatre program, does the title have name recognition, etc. 

Additionally, we felt like it was important to choose a musical from what is considered the Golden Age of Broadway from 1943-1965. Why this era and style of musical? Two reasons: 1. The school has only done one musical from that era in its history and 2. We wanted the students that are considering pursuing a career in theatre beyond high school to have a varied resume of experience. Since many of the previous shows tended to lean towards the contemporary dramatic end of the musical theatre spectrum, our goal is to balance that out with a Golden Age musical, in addition to last year’s The Little Mermaid.

One of the challenges that producing a Golden Age musical presents is that they appear dated by contemporary standards. Whether in traditional romantic relationships, diversity, subject matter or more, these shows often feel like a throwback to a less inclusive era. Then why produce these musicals? One reason is that it allows us to look at these shows with a fresh perspective in regards to casting and challenging our expectations. Why has Shakespeare been done for the past 400 years? We have the artistic freedom to reimagine relevant themes in a modern context.

When addressing why the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York was producing the musical, Kiss Me, Kate! as part of their 2019 season, Artistic Director Todd Haimes was asked about this type of show in the age of #metoo. He is quoted in the article saying, “It is exactly the work of a revival…(to present) the truth of our past alongside the perspective of our present.” In other words, rather than pretending these outdated or unacceptable situations never existed,  let's address these issues and discuss how we’ve changed or not enough. 

Taking into consideration the criteria we created and choosing a musical from the Golden Age of Broadway, we have decided that Guys and Dolls is the best choice for our students and our community. Guys and Dolls is a light-hearted, upbeat show that 70 years after its premier is still considered to be one of the greatest, most perfectly constructed musical comedies in the history of the American theatre. Now, our job is to use this as an educational opportunity to not only perform a classic musical, but to also look at how gender, language and relationships have changed since the 1950’s. What is our responsibility in producing older works and how do we address the problematic issues? This is a question that many theatre practitioners are facing as we re-examine older works. When we look at this musical through the lens of 2022, yes, it is definitely dated in terms of its gendered language and stereotypes. I ask again, what is our responsibility? Is it to show history as it was, knowing that those norms are not reflective of the world we live in, or is it to make sure that the show fits into contemporary norms of acceptability. My answer is both. I do believe if we act as though the world of the 1950’s was the same for women as it is today, we do a disservice not only to history, but also those women.

Most of the issues with regards to Guys and Dolls is in its misogynistic treatment of women, particularly in the relationship of main characters: Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown and Nathan Detroit and Adelaide. The story definitely falls into the cliches of relationship roles that are dated, but as this article points out the end result of the characters appears much more progressive than initially meets the expectations of the audience. “Sarah Brown isn’t so much tricked into anything as she is wooed as any person might be. She even wears her mission uniform to the wedding, proving she won’t be giving up her career for marriage.” Both women are career oriented and that doesn’t change by getting married. Concepts that weren’t the norm for the 1950’s. In addition, by looking at how some recent professional productions have dealt with these issues, we believe that we can use it as a basis to “help to soften the potentially offensive content.” 

One of our biggest concerns with producing Guys and Dolls is in its gendered language of the title. Legally, we cannot change the title, nor should we. That being said, we also understand that it does potentially negate our nonbinary students. Though the title puts the characters into one of the two gender categories that existed at the time, we feel like this musical, more than others of its era, allows for gender bending cast possibilities. Again, by looking at other contemporary productions, we can open the doors to challenging many of the gender stereotypes that might exist within the script. 

Our hope is we have been able to clearly articulate that though we understand some of the contemporary challenges we face in producing Guys and Dolls, we feel like it is important to continue to produce historical works of theatre, all the while being sensitive to fact that these are outdated ideas. Our goal is to be inclusive to our entire community and we have made this decision thoughtfully about how to address the concerns for everyone involved.  The fact is Guys and Dolls is not an outlier. When doing the research for this show, numerous professional, university, high school and community theatres all over the world are currently producing Guys and Dolls. In fact, a remake of the movie is currently in the works from the director of the live action film Beauty and the Beast and the film version of the musical Dreamgirls! 

We are excited to begin the journey!

Jason Kruger

Cate Gasco
Musical Director

Laura Kieler
Technical Director

Rationale: Hamlet

Hamlet is often considered the greatest tragedy of all time. Hamlet is the story of the prince of Denmark, who is told by the ghost of his murdered father to avenge his death by killing the new king, his uncle. Though his father’s death was only two months prior, Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, has married his Uncle Claudius, much to his dismay. Hamlet’s struggles with both his indecision and inability to act while at the same time his occasional impulsiveness, eventually lead to his downfall. Scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet between 1601 and 1603. Though there are many themes in Hamlet, one that is of particular interest to me as a director is that of “madness” or what today we might refer to as mental health disorders. Why? Because to me, this is how a play that was written over four hundred years ago is still relevant today. Not only relevant to modern audiences, but in particular to teenagers.

Hamlet is returning from university in Germany at Wittenberg for his father’s funeral when he finds out that his mother has already married his uncle. It’s not unreasonable to deduce from the text that Hamlet can easily be a first year college student. Why does this matter? For me, for a few reasons. One reason is that I think it makes sense from a storytelling perspective that Hamlet is both indecisive and impetuous. It gives more honesty and rawness to the famous “To Be or Not to Be” speech. It’s not the over the top performance of the classic speech by Laurence Olivier that might come to mind when we hear those words, but the words of an angry, confused, scared, and unsure young adult. It takes the grandeur out of the performance and becomes a story about family and relationships. The second reason that I think Hamlet’s age is important is that we live in a world where more and more young people suffer from mental health issues and depression. It’s become a crisis. 

Mental Health illnesses, or disorders as they are now more commonly referred, affect millions of children and young people worldwide. Why then the stigma surrounding mental health conditions? Why do we have trouble talking openly and honestly about things like depression, bipolar disorders, etc.? If a person has a medical condition, people are likely to offer sympathy and support, but to the person dealing with a mental illness, often there is a sense of embarrassment and shame. Due to the social and self-perceived stigma around mental illness, a person will often suffer in isolation. The effects that stigma has on people with mental illness and their families are extensive. Navigating teenage adolescence is hard enough. 

In addition to Hamlet’s anxiety and depressive disorders, Ophelia struggles just as much, and ultimately even more with her mental health. Unfortunately, she is often portrayed as weak and having no identity of her own, telling her father “I do not know, my lord, what I should think” (Act 1, scene 3). From a historical perspective, this is often how female characters were written. I think given a modern context, we know suicide is often higher among high school females than their male counterparts. We know textually Hamlet’s rejection of Ophelia is the reason we, as an audience, are given for her suicide. Through our understanding of mental health in a modern context, Ophelia's ultimate decision does not rest in one moment, but a lifetime of moments.

I’m eager to explore these ideas with our company, the senior English students, and our community. My hope is that we can bring new life into the immortal words of perhaps one of the greatest plays ever written.