Main Entry: thau·ma·turg
Etymology: French, from New Latin thaumaturgus, from Greek thaumatourgos working miracles, from thaumat-, thauma miracle + ergon work — more at Theater, Work
The official blog of the Dramaturgy Department at Baltimore's CENTERSTAGE. For posts related to our current and upcoming shows, click the links to the right. Alternatively, you could begin at the beginning, and explore our posts in chronological order.
Thinking about The Wiz, and of course its ultimate source material and ur-text in The Wizard of Oz, you start to think about the class of stories this fits into. Sure, it shows elements of the monomyths and Jungian archetypes Joseph Campbell and others have written about. And there’s an intriguing flurry of contemporary books and movies, especially in the fantasy and sci-fi universe, that have more than a passing resemblance to core elements of the story. But aside from these, which I hope to riff on in another post and on the show microsite, time allowing, there is something rootedly American about Dorothy and her saga, no matter the setting or what groovy tracks get set on it. Very much an American tale of the coming of age of an American young woman. In her article Journey or Destination: Female Voices in Youth Literature,author Kay Vandergrift explores some of this literature and legacy, and its occasional limits:
American literature is rich in both young adult novels and in
our own versions of the bildungsroman, the novel of education or
of initiation in which the central character learns about the
world while growing up and into that world. In fact, as a young
country, many of our classic stories are about rebellion, loss of
innocence, and coming of age, the staples of young adult literature.
One will note, however, that from The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn to The Catcher in the Rye to A Separate Peace to The Rule
of Bone, most of the protagonists in these books are male. Even
The Outsiders, considered one of the foundations of contemporary
young adult literature, has a basically all-male cast of characters,
although it was written by a young adult female.
One of the most critical and most fascinating elements … for those who work
with young adults is obviously that of coming of age. Readers
look to stories for confirmation and illumination of their own
life experiences and for vicarious experiences very different
from their own reality but that, nonetheless, extend their perceptions
of the world and their understandings of those who share
that world. In Heilbrun’s words, these are “stories to live by,”
stories that portray strong models for young women coming of
age in difficult times and difficult circumstances.
One might posit that almost all young adult literature is coming
of age literature; that is, it is a literature in which young
protagonists are engaged in the process of separating from
childhood, of making the transition from the security of family
and then from peers to independence and maturity, and ultimately
of integrating their lives into a community of adults. Of
course, not all young adult books include the entire range of this
process. Younger young adults, approximately ages ten to
twelve, often read stories that focus on young characters
rebelling against parental authority as they develop new interests
in the opposite sex and in their own appearance and establish
strong ties with peer groups. In real life this is a dangerous
time for girls … In the literature, however, the real
physical and emotional changes facing young girls are seldom
dealt with. While boys are breaking boundaries with rebellious
adventures, girls are most often featured in stories in which an
animal character has co-billing or those which perpetuate the
paradigms of male power.
In the transition stage, both male and female characters usually
go on a journey and face some sort of isolation, either physical
or psychological. For girls, the journeys and isolation are
frequently internal as they face the personal tragedy of being
different, while the conflicts faced by young men are most often
physical ones. As indicated earlier in this chapter, most of the
novels young people read in schools are male coming of age stories
and require the resistance of female readers to avoid that
crisis of consciousness all too commonly experienced by young
females. It is at the third stage, as young people take their
places in the adult community, when we have traditionally seen
the most dramatic differences between male and female characters.
While young men are portrayed as establishing separate
identities, beginning careers, and embarking on life’s journeys;
females are pictured as reconciling themselves to their circumstances,
assuming new responsibilities, and settling in as if at
the end of a journey.
Click your heels, Dorothy….
For anyone following along, and who knows if there’s actually anyone out there, just a word to the wise and wise-asses: we’ve got about four projects all simultaneously rolling around here, so posts to thaumaturgy might start to get all humble-jumble and scattergory. We can only hope of course, but just read along or avail yourself of the tags to follow a particular thread. But here’s a sort of road map, if it helps.
1) The Wiz opens tomorrow night, and has been rockin’ the house for a few previews now; no doubt there’s so more to be said on that front, especially with our first post-show discussion coming up Thursday.
2) We’ve got the two writers from The Second City arriving next week, spending about a week of “immersion” time soaking up Baltimore, and no doubt there will be anecdotes, links, and phonography galore to go with that. Meantime, follow our random associations and collection of fabulous Baltimore tidbits with us on delicious.
3) Starting Thursday, the day after opening of The Wiz, we start rehearsals for our first of three Play Labs—this one is a new comedy by longtime dramaturgy and associate artist James Magruder, a scathing piece of steaming wickedness called Dunkler-Related Disorders. We rehearse and read Thursday - Sunday, and if you’re in the area come check it out. James will be doing rewrites, and rehearsal 12-5 Thursday and 4-6 Saturday will be open to audience attendance. Stop by. Readings themselves are a mere $10, and rehearsals are FREE.
4) And starting rehearsals Oct 22 will be our remount of American Records wonderful new play ReEntry — fresh off lauded runs at Two River and Urban Stages, and due to play for 4,000 Marines at Quantico shortly before we open. In anticipation of this piece, and rehearsals, you can expect to start seeing quite a flurry of material jumping on here. But in addition, or in the meantime, check out our show-related links on delicious right here (and feel free to check out appropriate sub-threads). The production itself is based entirely on transcribed interviews with vets and their families, and we’ll be offering subsidized tix for service members and families to come see it.
come on along…
“Merry Christmas, Caroline”
Airman 3rd Class Charles E. Smalls, 18, a pianist and glockenspiel player with the 579th Air Force band in Newburgh, composed “Merry Christmas, Caroline,” in honor of the President’s daughter and sent it to the White House. Recently, he received a reply signed by Ralph A. Dungan, a special presidential assistant, which said in part:
“THE PRESIDENT has asked me to thank you for your kindness in sending him your song. Your thoughtful greetings are very much appreciated by the President and he extends to you his best wishes.”
Caroline’s song is not Small’s first attempt at writing tunes. In his last three years he has turned out 40 songs, including some rock ‘n’ roll. One number, “Bopp’n Pappy,” was recorded. Smalls has also composed several jazz instrumentals.
The musician, son of Airman First Class and Mrs. Charles H. Smalls was launched in his field at the age of three, when he began piano lessons. He appeared in his first concert two years later.
SMALLS, who also has played the Saxophone, attended Julliard School of Music for six years and graduated from High School of Performing Arts. After his Air Force hitch.
A Hip “Wiz” Opens at the AhmansonBY DAN SULLIVAN
Times Theater Critic[review of the original L.A. opening]
“The Wiz” makes a wonderful splash at the Ahmanson. There’s more to this black musical update of the “The Wizard of Oz” than meets the eye, but what does meet the eye is so dazzling that you have to start with that.
Designers Geoffrey Holder (who also directed it) and Tom H. John boldly give us Oz not as W.W. Denslow saw it in 1903 or as MGM saw it in 1939 but as they see it today-freaky, spacey, what Las Vegas would be if it would only let go. The Wiz’s emerald palace looks like the showroom at the Oz Hilton, where they bring all the drinks at once and charge $25 just to get in. (Appropriately, the Wiz, Andre DeSheilds, looks like the headliner.) The cave where Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, does her thing is the last word in mojo parlors, featuring a buzzard you could fly to Paris. (Evillene, Ella Mitchell, looks like her feet hurt.) Sometimes you can’t tell Holder’s costumes from John’s set. The yellow Brick Road is four dudes in orange Afros and gold cricket-coats with bricks painted on.The cyclone is a dancer in yards and yards of black cloth followed by a chorus of dervishes with inside-out umbrellas.
The colors are so bold that they’re almost hostile. Bright bright greens, sexy pinks, mean purples (for Evillene’s place), icebox whites-one might wonder whether Tharon Musser’s lighting is needed at all. “The Wiz” gives the eye more to blink at than any musical since “Jesus Christ Superstar” (its designer, Robin Wagner, is an influence) and would be worth seeing for this alone. Flash at this intensity has a kind of magnificence to it. Here’s a show that shows you something.
It’s also a charming and absolutely valid approach to “The Wizard of Oz.” Child psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim recommends in a new book that parents tell their children the old stories in terms they can understand but without softening the harshness that’s often a part of these stories-kids need witches. “The Wiz” might be a black parent’s version of L. Frank Baum’s tale for his kids, the colors and language changed around both for the fun of it and to bring the story home, but nothing important left out.
Dorothy (Ren Woods, a find) is still a little girl from Kansas who rides the whirlwind to a strange planet where scarecrows and lions talk and wizards aren’t all they seem. She also learns a few things about standing up to witches and looking to herself for happiness. But none of that is any heavier here than it was in Baum. It’s a show, show, not a tract, and white kids will love it as much as black kids. If you have any green ones, bring them too.
Sticking to the StoryNot only is “The Wiz” true to Baum’s spirit, it sticks more closely to his story than the movie did. It Evillene comes in a lot later than Margaret Hamilton did, that’s the order in the book too. Librettist William F. Brown seems to have a sense of honor about points like this, but he’s aware of the language he’s writing in. “I hope you don’t mind second-hand shoes.” says Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North (Vivian Bonnell), as she hands Dorothy the silver slippers, and there’s just a catch of remembered deprivation in it. Anybody who calls this an insensitive show isn’t listening.
Charlie Smalls’ music and , especially, lyrics seem more routine, although they’re idiomatic and propulsive enough to set the Ahmanson clapping, especially in “Ease on Down the Road,” jauntily choreographed by George Faison. Dreadful milking doesn’t help the musical side of the show.
The cast is super, Miss Woods has a big strong singing voice but the manners of a sweet, biddable child just beginning to look around for herself, spunky but a little scared. She is as much the Dorothy of one’s imagination as Judy Garland was. Miss Bonnell and Dee Dee Bridegewater as the good witches might be her aunts, the one who stayed home (Miss Bonnell) and the one who went off to sing in New York (Miss Bridegewater).
Relating With DorothyHer uncles, then, would be her companions on the Yellow Brick Road -Valentino as the scarecrow, Ben Harney as the Tin Man and Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion. There’s lovely comedy here as these three get their heads together, and good relating with Dorothy, too.
DeShields as the The Wiz projects an interesting sinister quality in that first meeting, a moment when the show seems on the brink-note his white mask of saying something not in the book. All’s went at the end, when in fact he’s relieved to be just another dude. Miss Mitchell as Evillene isn’t all that bad, really- just a little touchy. Too bad she had to go.
Like the re-broadcast of a radio call-in show, no need to respond to this; just sharing another little tidbit of some what it took to put up The Wiz here. Yes, there will be not one but two Totos alternating in the role. Children and dogs….