Le Bon Strategem

A recent conversation I had that included the state of Wisconsin reminded me about an entry I did almost 3 years ago on American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI. Their brochure had fallen into my hands and really impressed me because the language made me just want to visit. I didn’t care if I saw a show or not, they just sounded like a great bunch of people in a great location and I wanted to be there. Reading the entry over again, I still do.

I visited their website again curious if they were able to maintain their cool factor or if the brochure was just the result of some momentary made genius. The performance descriptions still seem pretty enticing. I think the more extensive descriptions are obviously better than the abbreviated versions found here. I was particularly intrigued by the subtitling of Henry IV as “The Making of A King.” As far as I can tell Shakespeare never included that as part of the title. Since they are combining the two Henry IV plays into one, I assume they are emphasizing the parts that show Prince Hal’s coming of age.

But really, that bit of information along with details of most of the other shows are elements that could engage me based on my status as an theatre insider. As a test of whether the descriptions would be truly enticing to a person who was not familiar with a show, I specifically looked at the language of The Belle’s Stratagem by Hannah Cowley, both a work and playwright I had no idea existed. While I have to acknowledge that the details about the show fading into obscurity after being wildly popular for about a century appealed to my academic and insider side, you have to admit the following makes the show sound like a lot of fun:

Slip into the midst of a gathering of the rich and richer, old money and new. Nobody parties like the British upper crust. With names like Silvertongue, Flutter, Courtall, Villers and Miss Ogle, it’s clear this is a cheerful meat market on display. Plays like a well-choreographed dance, pirouettes into a seethingly seductive soiree of a masquerade ball, where identities are mistaken, libidos tweaked and liaisons secretly undertaken.

Mistaken identities and secret liaisons I am familiar with but I love the “cheerful meat market on display” phrase.

I will admit that writing about period pieces allows for over the top language that would sound out of place describing a modern realistic piece or even contemporary performer. What you always want to aim for when promoting a performance is not to so much describe the reality of the piece as describe the essence of the experience (preferably without using meaningless stock phrases like “what it means to be human”). That is something that can be accomplished with just about every period and genre. Not everything the American Players people have written is replete with inspiration but it is still pretty good. (And it gives me hope that improving my own writing a little more is possible.)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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