Last night NBC brought us a live, theatrical event – by their own description, the first of its kind in over 50 years – a broadcast of (more or less) the stage version of The Sound of Music.
This morning, my Facebook and Twitter feeds closely resemble a warzone – a warzone full of opinions, many of which are opinions about opinions. Plenty of strains of “how dare you criticize this, it provided work for hundreds of people and exposed millions to our artform” have been greeted with passionate chants of “how dare you criticize me for speaking my mind” – and, you know, everything in between. As with anything on the internet, a bit of rational objectivity can go a long, long way.
Should artists Tweet about other artists? Should anyone Tweet while watching a piece of art? Is our culture moving to a place where the majority of its denizens will no longer take risks – they will merely comment on the few who actually do put themselves on the proverbial line? These are the big questions that many people are pondering this morning – and I think it’s an exciting discussion to have.
At the end of the day, “there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s…” Discussion is healthy, and frankly – how incredibly wonderful it is that people, young/old/near/far, were able to share a common experience, and talk about it. As for the broadcast itself, I’m not a critic and don’t have much interest in dissecting what worked or didn’t work, but I did notice a few things worth mentioning.
Broadway regular Bret Shuford raised a wise point:
— Bret Shuford (@bretshuford) December 6, 2013
Of course, the 1965 film did not have an audience – but it was also a film, employing authentic scenic elements, mountains, lighting, and on and on and on. Would it have made a difference to add a studio audience to the broadcast? It certainly would have been a different experience for us – though I’m not sure that it would have been better or worse. Instead of semi-snarky tweets about the broadcast feeling like a soap opera (I’m guilty of one of those, for the record), we would probably have been greeted with semi-snarky tweets about it feeling like The Cosby Show – or wondering if Fonzie would be getting more entrance applause than the Mother Abbess.
Slam dunks are rare in the arts; universal acclaim is non-existent. The difficulty here is that its source material (or at least the original film version thereof) is as close to being universally beloved as anything I can think of (though, even it has its detractors) – so, when you stop and reflect upon it, it’s easy to be struck by what a courageous and risky decision this entire prospect was from the outset. But – just because something’s risky and/or employing people, doesn’t mean that we have to adore it. What prompted me to write down these musings is the question for which I do not claim to know the answer: is it possible to be supportive and snarky at the same time?
I have been a casting director in NYC for the last 11 years. I have worked on brilliant shows. I have worked on lousy shows. I have worked on brilliant shows that some people felt were lousy, and also the reverse. I have worked with and know most of the people who were involved in last evening’s broadcast – some of them are good friends – and, as it is for me, their participation in any show/broadcast/movie/tour or other job is just that – a job (and, by its very nature, a pursuit in which I want to support them.) Sometimes we get lucky and a job is immensely fulfilling on both artistic and financial levels – sometimes on neither. But let us not be terrified by the notion that, if we speak critically about anything that is produced, then nothing else will be produced. Did I have quibbles and/or massive issues with last night’s broadcast? Yes. Were there also things about it that I absolutely loved – things that I never would have had the creativity to think of myself – things that moved me and made me feel wonderful? Yes. And I would hate to think that any of the artists involved would be discouraged to continue creating because of a social media punchline. So where do we draw the line?
When I was 18, I worked as a production assistant on a Broadway-bound musical (that never quite made its way to New York.) A much-beloved, famous actor was starring in the show and showed me enormous kindness, letting me pick his brain on all of the things about which I was curious. One night he was speaking about a well-known writer he had worked with – saying quite negative things. A few months later I was visiting New York City and having dinner with Peter Filichia, the mensch of all mensches and one of the smartest theatre journalists in the biz. When the topic of the well-known writer happened to enter the conversation, I regurgitated the much-beloved actor’s negative statement word-for-word – speaking with conviction, as if I had ever even met the person in question. Peter accepted my comment at face value and, like the wise former school teacher he is, waited until the end of the evening to ask me “so, where’d you get that?” – knowing that it couldn’t have been my own original thought.
A few hours before The Sound of Music aired last night, the world learned that Nelson Mandela had died at age 95. That created an interesting contrast, with many people concurrently bitching about NBC’s broadcast, while posting things along the lines of:
— CNN (@CNN) December 5, 2013
Now, of course, that’s not too far off from a similar sentiment once expressed by another of our elder statesmen – the one who had a bit of a hand in last night’s main event. So I think back to how readily and easily I repeated what I was taught, back when I was starting out and wanted to seem wise and knowing – and it makes me realize that, particularly for those of us who do work in the entertainment industry – that we have an obligation to be role models – not even in what we say, but in how we say it. Heroes may be few and far between these days (just look at the heartache of professional baseball) but we can all strive to communicate in the honest and constructive ways whenever we’re given the opportunity.
I include myself in this proclamation, by the way. I tend to have strong opinions (particularly when the American musical theatre is involved) but I also tend to keep a lot of those thoughts far away from the internet. The social media pulpit is a powerful one and I write in hopes of using that power for good more than just a cheap thrill – all the while remembering that nothing is so precious or holy that it should not be discussed.
At the end of the day, I’m grateful that The Sound of Music exists. I’m grateful that this TV broadcast was initiated and seen to fruition. I’m grateful that Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Bob Greenblatt and others remain forward thinking risk-takers and visionaries. I’m grateful that my friends and colleagues are able to make a living working in the arts and I’m grateful that I’m able to make a living working in the arts. I’m also grateful that it was a ratings smash – hopefully that means that more “mass-market” musical theatre events will come to exist in coming years.
And, as I posted last night – right after Audra McDonald sang “Climb Every Mountain”:
This above all else: I’m grateful to live on the same planet that was once inhabited by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, II.
— Michael Cassara (@michaelcassara) December 6, 2013
If last night’s broadcast is responsible for exposing a new generation to a beloved story (and it, assuredly, is) – well, then I’m exceedingly grateful.