Surprise musical

May 24, 2008

There are plenty of examples of people doing musicals in odd places and surprising the unsuspecting public. The surprise to me with this one is that it is an advertisement for going to the theatre.

Yes I know it is for a ticket agency but that doesn’t change the fact that it is designed to encourage people, and I presume particularly young people, to go to the theatre.

I started to take myself off to see plays in my late teens and I don’t recall feeling that I was particularly young in relation to the rest of the audience. Perhaps the creation of new companies like La Mama and Nimrod and the emergence of new young playwrights in the late 60’s made theatre seem lively and relevant. For whatever reason, my friends and I frequently went to the theatre.

Now I often observe that it is my generation and older who are still going to the theatre and am surprised at how few sub 30 year olds are there. The Bureau of Statistics figures seem to back this up (though I can’t correlate the actual numbers with the percentages given in their tables), with the peak theatre audiences being found in the 45-54 year age group (not quite my generation but close!)

I hope that Lastminute.com’s advertisement is successful in getting more (young) people to the theatre, though I am sad to see that the Australian version of the website does not include theatre booking like its UK counterpart does.

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It can often be a struggle to come to terms with something you admire produced by someone you don’t. This is my problem with the work of Jacob Riis.

Embracing the newly developed field of flash photography, Riis documented the slums of New York in the 1880’s in a series of both candid and posed images which were published in a book he wrote called How The Other Half Lives.

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The photographs and drawings based on photographs reveal the appalling conditions that the poor, particularly the immigrant poor, lived in in the USA in the 19th century.

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Riis called for better housing and sanitation, but interestingly thought that this should be funded by private benefactors rather than governments. In fact he encouraged the then Commissioner of Police – Teddy Roosevelt – to shut down the publicly run poor-houses. Perhaps improving them might have been more appropriate!

Despite his worthy place in the history of photojournalism and his clear concern for the plight of the poor, he also displayed some very unpleasant racist views in his writing. Consider the following quotes.

Of the Jews –  “Money is their God. Life itself is of little value compared with even the leanest bank account.”  

Of the Chinese – “…the Chinese are in no sense a desirable element of the population, that they serve no useful purpose here …”

Of the Italians – “With all his conspicuous faults, the swarthy Italian immigrant has his redeeming traits.”

And so on.

Yes they were the prevailing views of some people at the time, but nonetheless that attitude does lessen my regard for him.