Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Season of Stories

To be honest, it's a pretty depressing day here at Two River Theater. After several weeks of performances, our production of Camelot ended its run last night. And, as we usually are when the set is being demolished, the stage is no longer filled with music, and the dressing rooms are again bare, we're all a little glum.

Of course, this is the nature of theater; part of the magic of these separate elements coming together to make a show is knowing that it's live, now, and only for a short time (unless your show is The Phantom of the Opera, of course.) And what you have are the memories of the piece, yours to keep forever, never to be experienced in quite the same way.

And of course, you have the story.

David Lee, the brilliant director and adapter of our Camelot, chose to change the framework of the show a bit; a troupe of players comes together to tell the legendary story of King Arthur, who tried to create a world in which Knights fought for good and equality reigned. At the end of the play, when Arthur meets Tom, a boy who has come to fight for Camelot based only on the stories he's heard, Arthur realizes that even if Camelot itself fell apart, the fact that it will live on in legend means that he has won. David chose to add a coda that pointed out the story's lineage, making Tom grow into Sir Thomas Malory, the author of 'Le Morte D'Arthur'. From there, the players track the story from him to the storytellers who told versions of the story throughout the ages, until it came to Lerner and Loewe, who wrote the show you had seen performed. By adding this coda, David was pointing out that you, as an audience member, were now part of a line of storytellers who stretched out over centuries, telling a story that illuminates crucial elements, both good and bad, of the human experience. Or, as the lyrics say:

Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment 
That was known as Camelot.  

The age of Camelot is gone, even our Camelot is gone now, but the story will not be forgotten.

But it's not only ancient legends that get passed down through the generations. As often as I heard people exclaiming their love for the stories in Camelot, I've heard people celebrating their love of the stories at the heart of our next production: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, an adaptation (with charming puppets, by the Mermaid theater of Nova Scotia) of the beloved Eric Carle books. Written in only 1969, Caterpillar has only had one or two generations to enchant, as opposed to the thousands stretching back who have been hearing the tales of the round table. And yet, this story has already become firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of children who have grown up hearing of the hungry Caterpillar's adventures, and in those of the parents who have shared them. Although the stories of chivalry and honor, of knightly quests and fair maidens, are very different from those of insects questing for their own version of the holy grail (or, wait, perhaps they're not so different after all...), there is something about these stories that sticks, that becomes part of a heritage of storytelling, passed on and shared.

Playwright Tanya Saracho and director Jerry Ruiz read 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' (in two languages!) to the children of the Monmouth Day Care Center, as part of our Nosotros program.

As we approach the holiday season, doubtless you will be a part of your own storytelling traditions. Perhaps it's the annual screening of It's A Wonderful Life that your family watches every Christmas day, or the yearly reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids who are too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve. Perhaps it's the telling of the miraculous eight days of oil of the first Hanukkah, or the discussion of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Or maybe it's none of these at all. Maybe for your family it's the retelling of that time your grandfather first spied your grandmother across a high school dance hall, then told his friend she was the girl he was going to marry. Or the time your aunt put salt instead of sugar in the apple pie and everyone was too polite to say anything. Maybe it's happy memories of the good year gone by, or painful ones about hard times that will hopefully pass. Maybe it's a story you don't share with anyone, but keep tucked away in your own heart, just for you.

We here at the theater wish you all a very happy holiday season. But most of all, we wish you stories. Hopefully, some of them have come from us, and we promise that we have many more to share with you in the months and years to come. But as you gather with your loved ones over meals and around fires in the weeks to come, we hope that you tell stories, whether they are about ancient kings or peckish bugs or anything that thrills and delights, or even just makes you feel, a little more, what it is to be human.

Happy holidays.

The next generation of storyteller (in this case, Carter Aaron Mandel, grandson of Two River subscriber Linda Stamato), hard at work. 

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