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Keep Your Biases Out of My Textbook

“Keep your biases out of my textbook…”  This is literally a note I wrote while doing some homework recently.

I am currently taking a class on Theatre Management. We’re learning the ins and outs of what it takes to run a theatre company, which is perfect because this is partly what I’ll end up doing in my career as a theatre artist, at least to some extent. Our textbook is fat and full of information: Theatre Management: Producing and Managing the Performing Arts, by David M. Conte and Stephen Langley. It covers topics in non-profit and commercial theatre from marketing and advertising, to budgeting, to 501(c)(3) information and more. As useful and thorough as this book is, it’s also filled with opinions and biases, usually stated as fact.


Matilda The Musical

Isn’t this in the nature of theatre and art, though? What’s true for someone in their definition of theatre is not always true for another. I certainly have a different notion of theatre than say, my parents, or even some of my classmates in Theatre Management. And this is great! We should be challenging each other’s notions of theatre.

However, since theatre is and can mean different things for different people, perhaps biases about it should be left out of a fact heavy textbook, or at least not disguised as fact. In the chapter on Presenters and Presenting Organizations, in discussing mix use and commercial facilities for presenting performance, it states, “Although one would not consider Cirque du Soleil legitimate theatre, it certainly has made an impact on the entertainment front in Las Vegas, with five different shows currently running” (Langley 192).

From Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna

From Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna

I read this and paused. Hmm. Alright, I see where you’re coming from. Cirque du Soleil is just entertainment, right? Not theatre. Fair. Is it not theatre because not all of their shows tell a story in a linear narrative? Or because it tours and plays in casinos? Or because of the sheer hugeness of the performances themselves?

Now, while Cirque du Soleil is definitely not the place to go if you’re looking for optimum creative license in your work, I wouldn’t flat out illegitimize it. When it comes to this type of big, money-making entertainment, it’s merely a matter of taste. I would absolutely equate the entertainment vs. theatre value of Cirque to that of a number of Broadway musicals. Take any mega-musical for instance, Wicked, The Lion King, Spider-man… while I am not particularly drawn to this type of theatre, I think most people would still categorize these performances as such.

How do these giant crowd pleasers differ from a Cirque show, exactly? In the big Broadway shows, there is singing, dancing, acting, elaborate design… and in Cirque just the same, plus impressive feats of human ability. Really, these two are not so different at all. I would just as soon call the big Broadway shows illegitimate theatre as I would Cirque du Soleil. And personally, if I am going to spend money go see either of these, I’d choose Cirque. But that’s just one person’s opinion.


Cirque du Soileil’s Quidam

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