Ms. Miller's Midterm | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Ms. Miller's Midterm

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To the Editors:

While I agree with Bryan Miller's attack on the conceptual sophomority of Peter Sellars's productions ("Mangling the Classics," October 21, 1994), in bemoaning the fact that "lots of people expect to walk into the theater and have a fabulous, enriching experience when they haven't even read the libretto or play," Ms. Miller restricts the deserving audience to drama critics and college literature majors. Clearly reading the script improves one's appreciation, but if theater and opera are viable arts a performance must be able to stand on its own. Most of Shakespeare's plays were not even printed during his lifetime, so his intended audience, contrary to Ms. Miller's donnish prejudice, could hardly have read them before the actors stepped on stage.

The audience needs some knowledge of dramatic conventions (which are much better analogies than plays and librettos to Ms. Miller's rules of baseball or football), but they can only acquire that knowledge by actually going to the theater, whether they have passed Ms. Miller's midterm exams on the text or not.

Michael S. Kochin
S. Kimbark

Bryan Miller replies:

When attending a performance in a foreign or unfamiliar language (and I think that most people would agree that much of Shakespeare's wordplay has passed into antique usage), the wise individual of whatever career path reads up on it first. This is especially true for someone attending an opera for the first time: surtitles do help, but if you go to, say, Boris Godunov without knowing anything about it, you're going to miss an awful lot. Mr. Kochin's comment about the audiences of Shakespeare's time is irrelevant, since the Bard's works were written specifically for them; similarly, something like Disney's Aladdin is self-explanatory to us, but may need translation even for English-speaking audiences should it survive for another few hundred years. Finally, where I come from, everyone studies Shakespeare in school, not just "drama critics and college literature majors."

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