As I start my final year of college (barring some far fetched scenario where I do graduate work in my old age),I have a single fine arts credit hour required. Traditionally, at Wilmington College, this means taking a class called Regional Theater in Performance. Or, as those of us taking the class call it, Date Nite 101. It’s an unusual class. I’m not sure how it’s taught on Wilmington’s main campus, where the students are mostly 18-22. At the Cincinnati branch, it’s what’s called a hybrid class: Mostly online, but with two or more class meetings during the semester. In this case, we met last Friday and will meet again in December. In between…
There’s very little online about this class. You can turn in your assignments, reacting to what you’ve seen between class meetings, via the school web site, but really it’s very simple: Go see three plays with a certain minimum of production values (like your local high school doing Death of a Salesman), write a reaction paper to each, and be prepared to discuss what you saw at the second and final class meeting. It’s kind of interesting in that the last theater production I saw was the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest. That was pre-Y2K. Yeah. It’s been a while.
The only major production I’ve ever seen was Oh! Calcutta! That’s right. My first professional theater experience was seeing naked people, including local radio jock Bob the Producer streaking across the stage at the end of the show. It was performed at Music Hall, the grand old venue in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine and home to the Cincinnati Orchestra as well as the local ballet and opera companies.
Prior to that, my experience with theater was at my own high school. I worked the lights and the backstage crew for Bye Bye Birdie in my junior year, and had roles in A Tomb With a View, the one-act version of M*A*S*H (as Col. Henry Blake), and The Pajama Game. In the last, I was given a non-singing role after auditioning by singing “Hey, There” one octave higher than I rehearsed it (and proving I had no future as a hair metal lead singer.) There is evidence of all this. Somewhere on teh intrawebs floats a picture of a very, very young Jim Winter sitting on stage in a toga. Yes, a toga.
I have three plays picked out, all based on movies. This seems to be a common trend these days. One of them was a no-brainer. The company up in Loveland is doing the musical version of Young Frankenstein, which I want to take AJ to see. The local Shakespeare festival is doing the stage version of The Birds, which should prove interesting. The Tempest looked almost like a movie when they did it, beginning with the cast in rain slickers waving what looked like a giant sail obscuring the stage while an a capella version of Madonna’s “Frozen” played. It was like watching the opening credits. Only without the credits. The Birds? I’m going alone on this one. AJ’s not into this one, and Nita is terrified of birds. And they are using real birds.
But we call this date night, and the first play I’m going to see will be this weekend. A local high school is doing Beauty and the Beast, which is Nita’s favorite Disney movie ever. We intended to see it at the Aronoff Center a few years ago, but a series of problems kept us away (one of which was a leaky gas line, so it worked out that we didn’t get to go.) When I asked Nita if she wanted to see one or two plays with me, she asked what was playing.
“Well, Mason High School is doing Beauty and the…”
Last time she said yes that strongly was when I proposed to her. So we’re going Friday night. Yes, it’s date night.
Will I continue to go after this class ends? Maybe. I have it on my bucket list to see all of Shakespeare’s plays live. I’ve seen Richard III and The Tempest. The movies have burned me out on Hamlet thanks to repeated showings of the Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh versions, but maybe I’ll it see it on stage soon enough.
For now, though, I want to watch my wife’s eyes light up when she sees Beauty and the Beast. And I wonder how long “Puttin’ on the Ritz” will be stuck in my head after Young Frankenstein.