Wednesday October 30, 2013
If you have ever wandered into an empty theater, walking among the empty rows in the shadowy auditorium, you may have noticed that standing upon the bare stage is a single light, saving you from total darkness. That, my friends, is a ghost light. In practical terms, a "ghost light" is an electric light left on when the theater is empty. Generally, it is left on for safety reasons. Nobody wants to tumble into the orchestra pit.
However, there is a long standing theater superstition that a ghost light must be kept on when a theater is empty in order to keep away spirits. Others believe that a ghost light should remain illuminated to keep the creative spirits or muses within the theater. In lighting design, a "ghost" refers to a patch of light that escapes from an improperly trimmed dimmer. (Which is not nearly as exciting as the spooky version of the word!)
If you would like to learn more technical stage terminology, visit our Theater Glossary. Or, if you would rather share your stories of actual theater ghosts (of the Halloween variety) tell us about it in our "Readers' Story" section.
Monday October 28, 2013
Pygmalion, one of most humorous plays by George Bernard Shaw, was first adapted into a film in 1938, and then into a musical in the 1950s. In each incarnation, and even during its original theatrical run, audiences fell in love with the two bombastic main characters, Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. In fact, fans of the play enjoyed the characters so much, they wanted them to end up together. They wanted the strong willed flower girl and the erudite professor to cast aside their differences and fall head over heels in love, perhaps even marry.
Shaw had other plans, however. He envisioned that the characters remained combative friends, but that neither one would concede romantic devotion for the other. Of course, if you watch the musical version, My Fair Lady, you'll see that there are definitely romantic feelings blossoming. Pygmalion is a great example of how the audience's imagination can sometimes overthrow the intentions of the playwright. Learn more about this play by reading the summaries of Act Three and Act Four.
Friday October 25, 2013
"Where the devil are my slippers?" -- This is the last line of the film version of Pygmalion, a line delivered by the incomparable Professor Henry Higgins, directed at Eliza Doolittle, hinting that they are meant to be together. But are they?
Many directors, producers, and audience members wanted to have Pygmalion
end with romantic possibilities between the two main characters. However, George Bernard Shaw firmly believed that Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle do not marry one another. To clear up any questions that readers might have, he actually wrote several pages
of prose explaining what happens to the characters. According to Shaw, Pickering and Higgins remain bachelors. Eliza marries Freddy; they open up a flower shop together. She spends a good deal of time visiting both gentlemen on Wimpole Street. Best of all, Eliza and Higgins still argue with each other, keeping the fires of their turbulent friendship constantly ablaze.
Read more about the fascinating conclusion of Shaw's most beloved comedy, Pygmalion.
Thursday October 24, 2013
In literature, there are many ways to define a tragedy. (And no, I don't mean a play that receives terrible reviews.) Aristotle's notion of a tragedy involved a great but flawed hero who undergoes a tragic downfall, often caused by his own hubris. I rather prefer a Hegelian tragedy in which two opposing forces, both with valid claims of morality, collide. Such was the case with characters in Antigone; both make compelling points, but both end in despair. Hegel's definition of tragedy arguably offers more complexity than Aristotle's. (I will now leave the philosophy students to debate among themselves and move onto my next point.)
Personally, I define the genre of tragedy in simplistic terms. It is any story that evokes a profound sense of sadness, perhaps tinged with an appreciation of the beautiful fragility of the human condition. Some of the plays that fit into this type of tragedy often extol uplifting themes, such as Margaret Edson's Wit. Others leave me in a dark fog of the soul for days. I'd like to share the second half of my Top Ten tragic plays, and then I would love to hear which sob-inducing dramas would make the top of your personal list.