June 18, 2004

Journey of a Reformed Arts Snob

Filed under: Art and About Me — admin @ 4:02 pm

I’m a performing arts snob. People who perform dance or music or acting in a formal theatrical setting with a designated stage carry more weight with me than street performers, folks dressed up in animal suits at Disneyland, mariachis or magicians. Puppeteers barely make the cut, existing on the fringes of “legitimate theater” along with ice shows. I’m not saying this arbitrary hierarchy is appropriate, but it is a construct in my head that has been bolstered by the fact that I haven’t ever found myself connecting with performers outside the four walls of a building that has the words “theater” or “amphitheater” in its name. A lot of people do connect with the performers I’ve mentioned. And it’s not to say that I haven’t stopped and admired the talent of someone performing outside the conventions of my mind, but I haven’t gotten chills or cried or laughed due to their talents.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey-style circus is on the top of my cringe list. I think it’s because of the clowns — if a show has clowns, it can’t possibly be high art (please, no letters about Commedia del’Arte. I haven’t rationalized that yet). The animal acts don’t help any.

Last summer, my son, Tyrian, went to the circus with his grandparents and ten months later, it still comes up regularly in conversation. He was two-and-a-half at the time and everything about the show tickled his fancy. He chatters on about the animals and the ringmaster and the acrobats and the dancers and the music and yes, the clowns. He still pores over the over-sized 70-page souvenir program narrating the highlights of the show and asking if he can go see it again. Since he is comprised of no less than 50 percent of my DNA, this reaction astounds me. Definitely a triumph of nurture over nature.

Since Tyrian is now three-and-a-half, his father and I decided it was time to take him to his first big-time musical, “The Lion King.” I was certain that if he liked real elephants, he would surely love people dressed up as elephants.

I may be the first to go on record saying that “The Lion King” is not a great show. I agree with the rest of the world that director Julie Taymor’s theatrical interpretation of the movie is brilliant, but the story itself is quite boring, and the show suffers from a slow downhill slide beginning right after the invigorating opener, “Circle of Life,” hits its last note. Tyrian loved the opening number, and he clapped enthusiastically throughout the show after all the fast songs. He wiggled through the slow songs. When the show ended, he seemed more excited about going home on BART than the spectacle he had just experienced. Before leaving the theater, his dad forked over $10 to the souvenir program seller because I wanted to give Tyrian every opportunity to relive the theatrical event.

In the past two months, Tyrian has never cracked the spine on that program. He’ll politely answer “yes” when adults ask him whether he liked the show, but he has only spontaneously mentioned it once to me while we were passing a BART train on the freeway.

The circus, however, continues to come up. So I took a moment to read about the circus performers who so profoundly sparked my son’s imagination. They are dancers, singers, performers and athletes whose bios read very similarly to the credits of “The Lion King” cast. They have triumphed over “the legitimate theater” by touching the heart of my open-minded son, and giving his mom a lesson in what it means to be a performing artist.