Theatrical Mindset


A couple of weeks back I stumbled upon Beloit College’s annual “Mindset List.” Every year since 1998, a faculty member and a (now former) administrator at Beloit have collaborated to assemble a list of cultural and historical touchstones that the incoming freshman class would take for granted, having never known life without them, or be entirely unaware of, having never encountered them, depending upon the example. It is at once a fascinating, informative, amusing and sobering look at what the average 18-year-old might know (unless they are avid historians), in contrast to the received knowledge of those of us who are, well, let’s just say more senior by a few years.

As always, my mind turned to theatre. What has the average undergraduate embarking on a theatre course of study absorbed (or not) during their lifetime through first-hand knowledge? So I have drafted my own “Theatrical Mindset List.”

It is less rigorously researched and time-specific than the lists of Beloit, since I have no intention of producing it annually. I have taken the liberty of assuming that while the list pertains to people born in approximately 1993, no matter how much they might love theatre, their awareness of what was happening in the field couldn’t have possibly come before they were five years old. Consequently, I’ve allowed myself considerable leeway. If some prodigies were precociously cognizant, then they should have gone to college sooner.

So here is my brief, unscientific traipse through the mindset of the theatrical class that will graduate in 2015, but who only started their journey of higher education in the theatre in the last week or so.

1. Tony Kushner, Paula Vogel and August Wilson have always been major, award-winning playwrights.

2. Every theatre ticket they have ever bought or used at a professional venue has been in some way computer generated.

3. Disney has always been a theatrical producer.

4. They’ve never seen the world premiere production of a Stephen Sondheim musical on Broadway.

5. The Phantom of the Opera has always been a long-running Broadway hit.

6. They’ve never seen the world premiere production of a Jerry Herman musical on Broadway (and they’ve never been able to see Carol Channing on Broadway as Dolly Levi).

7. A woman winning a Tony Award for directing is not a breakthrough achievement, although it remains a rare one.

8. Rent has always been in production somewhere in the world.

9. The block of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in New York has always been a tourist attraction for families.

10. Les Miserables and Miss Saigon have always been popular musicals.

11. Edward Albee has never been out of critical favor and only infrequently produced.

12. Audra MacDonald, Matthew Broderick, Donna Murphy and Nathan Lane have always been Tony Award-winning actors.

13. At no time could they see the original production of a smash hit Neil Simon play.

14. They’ve never been inside the theatre where My Fair Lady premiered unless they attended church there.

15. They never had the opportunity to see the original production of A Chorus Line on Broadway.

16. Of all of the Tony Awards broadcasts they’ve watched, only one emanated from a Broadway theatre.

17. They’ve never seen a production under the leadership of David Merrick.

18. They’ve never seen a show at an Off-Broadway theatre called the Circle Repertory Company.

19. Elton John has always written for the musical theatre.

20. Ben Brantley has always been the chief theatre critic of The New York Times.

21. Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Ralph Richardson have always been deceased.

22. Theatrical productions have always begun with announcements to silence cell phones, pagers, beeping watches and unwrap candies. (Yes, this is unverifiable, but doesn’t it just seem this way?)

Startling to realize some of this, no? The older you are, the more startling it gets. Perhaps you can think of a few other examples of major changes, achievements, or losses in theatre before or during the mid 90s that the freshman class of 2011-12 might take for granted, or never had the opportunity to experience. I hope you’ll add them in the comments section.

In any event, it’s important to remember that before college, our knowledge of theatre, for the most part, begins when we began going to the theatre, or performing in it (and we didn’t all necessarily do both). For our college students, and for our interns and young staff, there is a divide, and it’s our job to bridge it.

  • September 6, 2011
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