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Entertainment Or Grand Art – Who Is Pulling The Strings?

By Martin Frenette
By Martin Frenette

Producer, director, choreographer, composer, set designer, costume maker, sound and light designers, it is no secret that, whether you’re going through a show’s playbill or the movie credits, it takes quite a team to bring any show or movie to life and, while the expression “too many cooks” can come up in rehearsals, one must acknowledge that each and every member of a creative team has their area of expertise and that one’s work wouldn’t be complete nor would it be able to stand out without someone else’s contribution. Even the most brilliant choreography executed by impassioned dancers would look as interesting as a bunch of racing pigs at the local fair if it wasn’t lit properly; an inspired, moving Overture would be completely lost without the right brain to design and handle the theater’s sound specifics.

Even though it takes an entire team of competent and inspired people to bring these creations to life, who’s making the final call? Who’s pulling the strings while the puppets are kicking their arms and legs up in the air? It’s a well-known fact that the producer is the one who is getting the most out of a show’s success, financially speaking, especially in the long run, which makes sense as producers are usually investing the biggest funds in a project, months, if not years before an audience of any size will even get a glimpse of it. This monetary reason will often be used when deciding to go for an actress instead of another, to extend or to shorten a run, even to add or to cut material: “Since it’s my money up there, I shall get more of what I want in it.”

Some producers were actors or directors themselves before starting to work “on the other side of the camera” which can give their projects a certain lead in the run as they have both the funds to make their projects come to term and the artistic background and insights that will often rally the artistic team and community behind their choices. However, in many cases, the puppet master can be and often is, someone with a big bank account, an ear for Dollar, Euro and Pound, but not so much for music, which leads actors, singers and dancers to start their own production company. Actresses Reese Witherspoon (Type A Films) and Lisa Kudrow (Is or Isn’t Entertainment) for instance.

Without putting all producers in the same basket and saying that all of them are only good at counting dollar bills and are ignorant as far as counting music goes, (some really are passion-driven, live and breathe for art) many still have this mentality from the 90s (which unfortunately also is a 21st century’s reality): “As long as we have strong skills and good looking people on stage, we have a show that the audience will like!” Except that, there will always be performers and creators in the audience judging the choices made onstage.

Those people who don’t understand why person X or Y is up on stage with a complete lack of stage presence or why a group of dancers come jumping around in albino amphibian costumes right in the middle of a moving monologue!

I’m sure that many shows can be referred to as “good entertainment” instead of “grand art” and that is just fine as I love good entertainment myself!

However, I also think that we have reached a point where we not only could, but should be able to go way beyond entertainment and create pieces that can be both entertaining and artistic. But how can one guarantee successful achievement in both? And who makes that happen?

Whether or not you’re a fan of the genre, saying that “The Lion King” (20 years on Broadway) or “Wicked” (14) are not entertaining or artistically weak wouldn’t be fair. While one might say that success was guaranteed, that the producers didn’t gamble much with those two since one was an animated motion picture blockbuster while the other was not only inspired by a best-seller novel, but was also the prequel to a well-known story.  But how common was it for a producer, 20 years ago, to invest in a show directed by a woman, one who had never directed a musical and who wanted to do it with puppets, or a show with two central female characters? Again, think 20 years back. Thankfully, the producers were willing to invest, allowing the artistic teams behind these shows to make magic, magic which is still touching audiences several times a week, year round and around the world.

That being said, who is to thank as far as touching the audience goes? Who is responsible for directing the right actor in the perfect way or for coming up with the most inspired love interlude for the orchestra? “Bad shows” or artistically poor productions, miserably cast shows don’t last, some will even close before the end of their preview run. In some cases due to a lack of rehearsal time to achieve what was imagined, the show wasn’t promoted the right way in others and, at times, because the producer simply changed his mind and pulled the plug on the  project.

When it comes to having the best time of your life or wanting to get to the fire exit without being noticed 15 minutes in, are you meant to be thankful to the cast up there, to the venue that took a chance by booking them or is the producer to blame for wasting time and money on a story that doesn’t make any sense and for hiring a director without an artistic vision who poorly directed the ensemble? Cast, creative team, producer, before and after the curtain comes up, who is pulling the strings?

Do you have an opinion on who and what makes a great show? We would love to hear from you: EMAIL US

 

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