Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Post-"Pan" ponderings, before the memories fade

That's me with the sword, in the puffy shirt.
As I write this it has been less than 12 hours since my last turn as Captain Hook in the Idaho Falls Youth Arts Centre’s production of “Peter Pan.”

I know from experience that the post-production blahs don’t set in for another day or two, but they are coming. I wouldn’t change anything about this. It has been a wonderful experience.

The “Peter Pan” we did is the Broadway musical that Baby Boomers cut their teeth on in the ‘50s and ‘60s. As we rehearsed this fall, I  flashed back to watching Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard on our family’s tiny GE black-and-white set. At age 3, I was as terrified of Ritchard’s leering portrayal of Hook as I was of the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz,” another TV staple of the times.

As I am now about the same age as Ritchard was then, I resolved to take my cue from him. If I gave any little children bad dreams, all I can say is, “Parents, your little ones will be fine. After all, look how I turned out.” On second thought …

All joking aside, I cannot overstate the value of organizations like IFYAC to the community. They spend a lot of money and harness a lot of talent to make shows like “Peter Pan” come to life. Think of the lumber, paint, nails and screws bought to build the sets. There’s the printing of posters and programs, and although the local media are generous it still costs money to advertise.

Although the numbers won’t be in until after the holidays, IFYAC President Kip Later (aka Bill Jukes) told me the $38,000 production had probably hit the break-even point Monday night. This is cause for celebration.

Looking beyond money, however, the true value lies much more in what these shows add to people’s lives. I’m thinking in particular of the 86 young people who gave all they had playing Lost Boys, pirates and Indians. I did not get to know all of them, but there were quite a few with whom I made friends. When I was their age I was in plenty of school and community productions, so I felt right in tune with the joy that comes from a common effort, working hard to pull off something spectacular. As Hook, I went “all-in,” mostly because I don’t know any other way but also to perhaps inspire the kids to let it all hang out.

At the end there is the applause, then the anti-climax that comes from tearing down the set, going home and returning to your normal life of washing the dishes, raking the leaves and going to algebra class (or in my case, sitting down at the computer and trying to think of something to write).

After an experience like this, none of us are ever the same. It gets in your blood. I hope that some of the children in the audience who saw me prancing and bellowing onstage said to themselves (or their parents), “That looks like more fun than humans are allowed to have.”
The night of our dress rehearsal, Jay Hildebrandt of Local News 8 interviewed me and some of the other cast members. We were happy that the show would be getting some free publicity. I read somewhere once that a story in the newspaper or on TV is 19 times more effective than an advertisement.

Looking for an angle, Jay asked how I view organizations like IFYAC at a time when education in art, music and drama is being cut in the public schools. I told him I don’t think these shows should ever be considered a substitution for arts education, but more as a supplement.

I’m all for the fundamentals, but there’s more to the world than science and math. Music, art and drama open us up to the possibilities inside ourselves. They allow us to see how amazing we truly can be. They are not an “after-dinner mint,” they are an essential part of the main course.

There’s a story I’ve occasionally seen on the Internet about Winston Churchill being asked about cutting funding for the arts to aid the war effort. He was quoted as saying, “Then what are we fighting for?”

Like so much of what goes up online, this story is not true, only “truthy.” There is no record of such an exchange. But in a 1938 speech to the Royal Academy, Churchill did say, "The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them … Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due."

Could Captain Hook have said it better? Split me infinitives, I think not.