I like looking at pretty things. Nay, I love looking at pretty things. If I had to choose, I’d say ‘sight’ is my favourite and most essential sense (followed closely by hearing and touch). So, it follows that one of my favourite parts of theatre is how it adds up visually. Sometimes, I find it hard to concentrate on what the actors are saying, much less figure out what their character’s names are, because I’m so distracted by everything there is to see.
This is also true of films, but in movies the illusion holds up more. It’s easier not to notice the ‘inauthenticity’ of the sets and costumes and everything else that went into making it beautiful. They’re more seamlessly lifelike.
Whereas, in theatre, even when you get lost in the illusion — as I often do — it’s still pretty obvious that you’re looking at sets on a stage. But I actually adore this distinction between film and theatre. When it’s a play, I notice the aesthetics — and little makes me happier than a well-dressed stage and cast.
Furthermore, the costumes and sets say so much about the tone of the piece. In the past year I saw productions of Our Town and The Matchmaker, both by Thornton Wilder. Though they were by the same writer, they had different tones and therefore the costumes and sets were nothing alike. And because the visuals fit the content and tone perfectly, they were both stunning and added loads of depth.
Because the visuals are such an important part of my theatre-viewing experience, it really bothers me when the visuals don’t live up to my high standards and ideals. This has mostly happened in the Shakespeare productions I’ve seen. Oftentimes, the directors try to update Shakespeare’s plays, and their favourite way to do this is by modernizing the costumes. Period costumes are my favourite kind. And it bothers me when the costumes aren’t right. Either in tone, or geography or time period.
But, when I do see a play with costumes and sets that I adore, and approve of, it is euphoric. Last night I had one such experience. Our school took us to see the play 1776 last week and some of my friends and I liked it so much that we decided to see it again. It’s a ‘musical play’ about the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Despite how lame it sounds (and how lame I thought it would be) it was divine. Aesthetically speaking anyways. The set was somewhat simple, yet elegant — complete with a large turntable to accommodate both indoor and outdoor scenes.
What I also liked was that the ‘congressional janitors’ did all of the between-scene furniture moving, in charactor — so that scene changes were completely integrated into the play itself.
And then there were the actors. You’ll have to pardon me for a moment while I wipe the drool off my keyboard. The nearly all male cast was clad in beautiful, late 18th century attire — complete with pony-tailed wigs and white stockings. I’m aware that this might not sound too appealing, but you’ll have to take my word for it — my friends and I did go back for seconds.
And oh, the colours! Don’t even get me started on the colours. It was a beautiful mix between drab browns for the less haughty, less affluent state representatives and deep, bright hues for the more haughty, more affluent state representatives. And of course there were several shades in between. The two ladies in the play wore elegant, full-skirted, tightly-corseted dresses.
And the (younger) actors themselves aren’t half bad. My gap year program is girls only, so, being a group of male-deprived teenage girls, we were very interested in the actors behind the characters. After last week’s performance, there was much Facebook stalking of these young gentlemen. Also much violent, melodramatic fanning of ourselves. And last evening we waited around after the show to get some autographs. (Which, I must say, made the actors very happy — although it was a little awkward when they had to remind us who they had played because they looked a little different in their street clothes.)
You wouldn’t think it, but Thomas Jefferson is fine. He’s literally tall, dark and handsome. And he has beautiful eyes. Andashirtlesspictureonfacebook. And I MET him, in person, in real life and discovered what it is to swoon.
And then there’s the representative from South Carolina whose name I can’t recall — my friends and I refer to him simply as “South Carolina”. Blue eyes. Pretty face. Southern accent. Bonus: he’s really from New Zealand, so he even has a beautiful accent in real life.
When I swoonfully related all this to my bestest friend (who isn’t as insane as I am), she laughed at me (in a ‘with me’ kind of way) and questioned the point of all this. She’s right, of course. These actors are way older than I am and besides, a several of them are (presumably) a tad homosexual. But, in reality, neither of these facts have any practical effect on my life. It’s not as though anything would happen without these ‘hinderances’.
I generally don’t go mad like this over real people, just fictitious ones. And that’s exactly what these guys are, despite the fact that they’re theatre actors whom I actually met, not film actors who live in a faraway place I’ve dubbed Movieland. The emotional energy I expend on these guys is no less theoretical than the emotional energy I expend on the likes of Mr. Darcy or Gilbert Blythe.
Because, after all, there’s a great difference between actors and the characters they play. And the guys whom my friends and I have lately ‘fallen madly in love with’ are really nothing more than illusions. Visually pleasing illusions, that is.