By Eric Altheide
The Art of Not Taking Yourself Seriously
As theatre artists, we tend to gravitate towards projects that fill some artistic need within us. We are students of human nature; the world is our classroom and the stage is our laboratory. As a director, you must delve into the emotional and psychological depths of the characters of a play, trying to mine that element of humanity to which your audience will relate. You pour over research material to expose the dramatic context from which your audience will learn some profound truth of human existence. You dig deep within yourself and use the text to express your creative vision of the world, and to ultimately leave your artistic footprint in the sands of time.
With A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, I have done none of that.
Instead, I have spent the past month and a half immersing myself in fart jokes, prostitutes and sexual innuendo. I have thrown out artistic pursuits in favor of explorations of timing, pratfalls and pole dancing. I have worried less about tugging at heart strings and more about tickling funny bones.
And I am all the better for it.
You see, putting FORUM under an artistic microscope is futile because it entirely misses the point. Titus Maccius Plautus (the ancient Roman gentleman who suffered from a lack of lawyers and had many of his characters and plotlines ruthlessly stolen to create this musical) understood this over 2000 years ago. He is not considered to be the father of comedy, but when his plays were first produced, he was competing against more popular forms of entertainment such as gladiatorial contests, bear baiting, and fully staged sea battles. Think of it like the well written Cheers television series competing against Survivor and The Bachelor. Trying to appeal to a public more obsessed with blood than storylines, he knew that it wasn’t the play that mattered, it was the laughs. What has resulted is two thousand years of comic evolution that has allowed audiences to escape the tragedies of everyday life by laughing at stock characters that represent themselves much more than they care to admit.
So, when in Rome …. We have done our best to, as Pseudolus says in the opening of the play, “divert you” from all of those other things in your life that are raging just outside those theatre doors. We will be irreverent and offensive at times; sappy-sentimental and outrageous at others. So just let your mind relax and ENJOY yourself. Laugh even if it is not funny to you; partially because it will make me and the actors feel good about ourselves, but mostly because it will make you feel better about yourself.
And you will be all the better for it.