Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"AJ" the most feisty and best choice for Dorothy

On the day of one of the most important elections in recent U.S. political history, let's take a break from politics, and look at an innocuous but entertaining little "reality show" from the CBC and the national vote to select a Canadian "Dorothy" for Andrew Lloyd Weber's new musical, "The Wizard of Oz" at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.
After auditioning dozens, the judges pared the choice to twenty young women and then began further public auditions, with professional coaching, mentoring, and a support system that lasted, on air, for eight weeks, and probably longer behind the scenes.
Outstanding, natural talents emerged from many parts of the country, all of them seeking to 'become a star' in the professional production, thereby launching a career in professional theatre.
Each week, the public were asked to submit their votes through a highly technical and often inaccessible digital path on the CBC website, and each week of the TV show, another candidate was dropped from the competition. From the public's perspective, the competitors grew to support and bond with many of their peers, and each time one was sent home, there seemed to be sincere disappointment and empathy from the remaining contenders.
In the last week, having narrowed the choice to three, the judges were no longer wielding the power, and only the public's votes were to be the deciding factor in who would become Dorothy for the Canadian production.
Of the three, one presented as feisty, one judge observing that she gave everything to all performances, like a cabaret singer, while the other two, both also with beautiful vocal "instruments" were more demure, more shy, more innocent and more refined than the feisty contender.
My wife and I participated in each of the eight weeks of the television production, usually quite amazed at the calibre of the talent, the courage, the determination and the staging and professional coaching that each performer received from the judges, themselves professional actors/musicians themselves.
During the final week, when we finally penetrated the digital maze set up for voting, my wife cast her vote for the "feisty" contender, known to the public as "AJ".
When the results of the national voting were announced, one of the more shy, demure, refined competitors was selected, once again confirming  the Canadian stereotype of "less is more" and innocence and refinement trump feisty and full-throated performance. Is this not another example of the Canadian national projection of an unconscious, and unattainable "ideal" that Canadians must always present as "refined," "demure," "sweet," "innocent," and never assertive or feisty as the model for our young people in order to satisfy some inner compulsion for perfection that drives too much of our national culture, and leaves hundreds of thousands of feisty and creative and assertive and eccentric persons and behaviours "outside" the norm?
While working with a music festival for young musicians, I too often heard from volunteers, "It is the most important aspect of the festival that we can see young children bow and curtsey and show deference and politeness to the adjudicator!"
What happened in that stereotype to the possibilities of the musicians actually getting into the music they were performing, as the most important goal of the festival?
When the adjudicators questioned the musicians about the picture they envisioned while playing or singing the notes of the piece selected for the competition, none of the musicians was able to offer a response, demonstrating that they had not either been coached in that direction or that they had not grasped that important variable of the relationship between performer and the musical composition.
Culture really does matter, and the Canadian addiction to some plastic model of perfection, projected onto our young singers and actors, and thereby to too many students, teachers, business entrepreneurs, and political leaders is a kind of strait-jacket from which we all could use a little release, a little loosening in order that "feisty" could be seen as inside the norm rather than "too much" and "too pushy" and "too brassy" and "too committed".
The  court room, and the accountants office, and the church sanctuary are not places where life is lived fully. These are places where specific functions are conducted according to specific rules, protocols and expectations of detailed transparency and accountability.
Dorothy does not and cannot be expected to live in any of those places, and rejecting "AJ" is a sign that our culture has been seduced by the perfectly demure mask of national identity, one from which we could well graduate into a more complex and more complete identity.

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