This complaint accused us of fomenting “rebellion, disrespect, and homosexuality.” The show in question was one of our Schooltime Series shows, a Theatreworks USA production of “Skippyjon Jones,” a story about a little Siamese cat with big ideas. According to the company’s website, the show is about “unleashing your powerful imagination and following your dreams.”
Skippyjon gets sent to his room “so that he can think about behaving like the cat he really is,” Theatreworks USA tells us. But being a young boy, Skippyjon can’t contain himself and his imagination goes wild again. I guess if you’re a little boy sent to your room to behave according to conditioned precepts and instead imagine yourself as a caped avenger saving your friends, some might see you as disrespectful and rebellious. Or some might understand that you’re a little boy.
Our children lead very creative lives, imagining themselves to be astronauts and painters and cows and nearly anything we know and don’t know. They don’t question their ability to offer answers where none exist.
In his now-famous TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson used the example of a little girl intent on an art lesson where she had shown little interest in other schoolwork. Her teacher stopped to ask what she was making. “I’m painting God,” the little girl said. The teacher said, “But no one knows what he looks like.” The girl responded with certainty, “They will in a minute.”
Children think anything is possible. Unless we tell them they’re wrong.
The complaint also accused us of a homosexual agenda. Perhaps that charge was brought because an actor was playing — among other characters — the mother cat. Apparently actors can’t be whatever they want to be, either. (I thought that was part of the point of being an actor.)
Our artists tell us truths, but they don’t always wrap them in facts. The actor who played the mother cat is, factually, male. That does not mean the actor cannot give us the truth of a female feline. Unless you can’t get past the facts.
The theater requires of its audience a willing suspension of disbelief. That’s part of the contract. When you walk in the door, you have to accept that canvas backdrops are stone mansions, if that’s what you’re told. That someone dangling from a wire is flying or swimming, that a white spotlight is a moonbeam, that characters can sing and dance about their lives, accompanied by an unseen orchestra. If you can’t accept these “lies” as fact, the rest falls apart.
Robinson says “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything creative.” I’d say of those who watch theater like the complainer above, if you’re not willing to be wrong, you’ll never see anything creative. If you’re not willing to let go of facts, you’ll miss the truth.
Terry S. Davis
Photo: Austen Nash Boone (left) and Jose Restrepo in the Theatreworks USA production of "Skippyjon Jones." Photo: Jeremy Daniel