What I want you to know. Which is everything.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

One Act Play

...since my last post which was only self promotion anyway. It's also been over a week since I ran. I really don't like just rambling on about nothing, so I have gotten out of the habit of just sitting down to write about my day or my random thoughts which were the original purpose of this blogspace, afterall.

I've just been very busy with a number of things. We are deep into the middle of UIL OAP season among other things in my life. If you don't know what this is, OAP stands for One Act Play. We take a shortened play to a contest where a single judge decides which play he/she thinks is the best and sends it on to the next level of competition. It's like football or any other sport in that you go from District level to Area, Region, and eventually State. Usually, two schools advance from each level. It requires a much less involved set (a unit set that everyone shares, and a limited amount of furniture and decoration) and a shorter play (it must come in under 40 minutes) and yet high school theatre teachers spend more time and energy on UIL OAP than any other show in the year. If you asked them how they felt about the nature of putting art in direct competition with other works of art they would tell you the same thing that actors or directors who are up for Oscars tell the press. "Oh, you can't judge different peices of great art together using the same criteria and say one is better than another." Or something along those lines. But the truth is the directors and actors and theatre teachers are out for blood.

The problem with OAP competion is multileveled. Aside from the inherit problems of competition among things that are not competitive in nature, I believe the OAP competition is harmful to our schools theatre programs and to the perception of he arts being spread to the world. It spreads the notion of competition and sport to areas that they don't belong. I believe competition is healthy, don't get me wrong. But why can't somethings be good and meaningful just for the sake of being?

If you aren't buying the idea that art and theatre shouldn't be made competitive, I completely understand. It's ingrained in our being. We want to pit everything against everything else. It's human nature. Let's spend some time thinking of how this relates to educational theatre, then.

Theatre teachers are, by-and-large, not competitive people. In fact, most of your theatre teachers were, in their youth, the anti-jock. Even when compared with other artistic disciplines theatre attracts the athleticly challenged. Band members, with the attraction of the marching aspect, are often more competitive people. At least in the South, choir kids are often athletes, as well. I think this has to do with church and singing and it being seen as a good, clean pastime. Kind of American. Just a theory. But fine arts like theatre and art often attract a different type of individual. Students who excell in art are often introverted and therefore express themselves better through non-performing means. Generally, your typical theatre student is the kid who didn't find acceptance in the more competitive area of sports and popularity and therefore found theatre as non-judgemental alternative to the other arts or extra-curricular activities. There are always exceptions, myself being one, but this is a generality.

When we force competition on these people they don't really know what to do with it. They know that they want to win, as any warm blooded creature would, and so they devise strategies to win. This is okay in sports, as winning is the goal. A play that stands alone does not have this goal. The goal is convey a message and tell a story in a creative way. These strategies will often be counter to at least one of these goals, most often the creativity. These are some talented people who sacrifice true ingenuity because their reputation, program, and sometimes their jobs are connected to winning. Afterall, we live in the state that judges the worth of a teacher on the TAKS test.

ONe of the main reasons that they involve themselves in theatre in the first place is because they want to be accepted for themselves, warts and all. But, instead these kids get dragged into a show where their teacher becomes an obsessive maniac, their friends are suddenly, driven to win at any cost and this subjective artform is reduced to letters and numbers.

I know that UIL OAP isn't going to go away, and there are many positive aspects of the competition that might make it worthwhile. The kids get to mingle with other school's kids and see their work. At the state level of competition there is the opportunity to gain scholarships. I would propose a new approach to the competition, however. One which focused on the quality and creativity of the show instead of the adherence to a set of prescribed rules.

I have never had the opportunity to direct a one act play, so I don't think that this come from bitterness at having never won. I've never lost either. It is coming from the point of view of outsider, really, having never been all that invested in a particular show. I am a part of a program where the other teacher directs the OAP and I'm usually ready for it to come to an end, to be honest. I hope, if I ever get to direct the play, that I will take a different approach to the contest. My hope is that I will have the sense to realize that, in this case, winning or losing really doesn't matter. If we lose because the play wasn't good enough then we should be disappointed, but because it wasn't our best work. If we, as a theatre troupe performed the play as well as we knew how then what have we to be ashamed or angry about? It was one guy or woman's opinion in most cases that our play wasn't superior to another, and most of the time they are right. Most of the time the play is superior. Maybe our school doesn't have the talent, maybe the director doesn't have the talent, maybe the director attempted something new that just didn't work, or perhaps the judge simply didn't agree with the director as to what makes good theatre. All of these things are possible and valid reasons to give a higher ranking to one play over another if, in fact, we must have a winner. It should not, however pressure the teachers or the students into changing their approach to directing as they already know how.

In summary: The UIL OAP make theatres teachers like a monkey with a laptop. They don't know what to do with competition and so they end up screwing up what they are supposed to be good at. We shouldn't care so much. More focus should be put on the positive aspects of the contest, which are now downplayed.

UPDATE: A typo in the 8th paragraph created a double negative and made it sound like I am bitter about losing. I am not. I've corrected the problem. You probably knew what I meant, anyway.


Finally an Abrigg..... said...

excellent post. we had our choir uil contest the week before spring break. and, i am not competitive in nature, and i hate uil competition. who knows what side of the bed the judges will wake up on, and frankly, the judges have NO IDEA how far my kids have come.

Paige Robins said...

What play are you guys doing?

Maegan said...

Amen to that!

Kyle said...

We are doing Picnic by William Inge. A play that is two hours in length.