Monday, July 21, 2008

Guys and Dolls and Children and Teens

Posted by Bruce Miller
I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday as I was watching Guys and Dolls. This was my fourth or fifth time seeing the show. I think it’s very well done, and I’m proud of it. I really enjoy watching it again and again.

The epiphany had to do with the sudden realization of all that my parents gave to me as a child.

As I looked around the relatively full house, I saw only one child or teenager. He appeared to be about 12 years old, and he was having the time of his life. He was there with his mom, or aunt, maybe his grandmother—and the two of them seemed really into the show.

I couldn’t help but remember the 50 or so times that my parents took me to shows as I was growing up. My mom is a native New Yorker. She was born and raised on Staten Island, and worked in Manhattan as a secretary before she met and married my dad when his Navy ship docked in NYC during WWII. Her mother, my grandmother, was a practice piano teacher at Carnegie Hall.

When my mom was growing up, her parents took her to Broadway, a habit she continued to nurture as a young woman throughout her twenties. When she was raising my brother and me, she apparently remembered and valued her own cultural education, because she insisted throughout my childhood and adolescence on taking us to the theatre.

Whenever she and my dad went, we went too. We went to the Virginia Museum Theatre, to Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern, and, being Chesterfield residents, we especially went to the Mill. When the Civic Light Opera company came to the Mosque (now the Landmark), we were there. We went to high school theatre productions, Dogwood Dell, the Shakespeare Players, and The Founders and The Common Glory in Williamsburg. During the summers, we’d visit family in New York and go to Broadway.

We were NOT a wealthy family—far from it. My dad was a feed salesman for General Mills and later a defense supply agent at Bellwood. My mom was a church secretary.

For whatever reason, my parents must have felt that a full cultural life was a vital part of my education. For the same reason, I suppose, Terrie and I have brought up our children in a similar manner. I doubt if a month goes by without our taking them to a play, a concert and/or a gallery opening or museum exhibition. It’s been that way since they were born, and I’m sure it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

What I can’t understand is why more families don’t feel so inclined. Guys and Dolls is a wonderful production of one of the greatest of all American musicals. I’m not engaging in hyperbole when I say I believe that Guys and Dolls means no less to American culture than Shakespeare means to British culture. It’s part of our national identity.

And yet, when I go to the show, I hardly ever see parents bringing their children and teenagers. Are tickets too expensive, or has everything fundamentally changed? Or is the theatregoing tradition in Richmond really that far behind that of major cities in the North or in Europe? Go to NYC or London, and you’ll find theatres packed with families.

I am SO thankful now to my mom and dad for taking me to all those plays. I suspect that it was mainly her idea, at least at first. By being so culturally aware, my mom passed on to me her love of theatre, the arts in general, reading, education and critical thinking. Without all that, I can’t imagine who I would be.

My mom is now 92-years-old, and she suffers from Alzheimer’s. When I visit her at Westminster-Canterbury, she sometimes knows who I am, but just as often thinks that I’m her husband or father. It’s as if all of her life is now happening simultaneously, and time has lost all relevance. I wish I could take her to Guys and Dolls—she’d LOVE it!!—but physically, emotionally and cognitively she can no longer leave her home.

If there’s anyone out there who wants to bring the children in their life to Guys and Dolls, or for that matter any other Barksdale and/or Theatre IV production, and isn’t doing so because they can’t afford it, please send me an email, let me know what you'd like to see and what would be your ideal “pay what you can” price. I’ll find a way to make tickets available to you at prices you can afford.

Every child age ten and up should see Guys to know what this classic American musical is all about. If our children stop coming to the theatre, then the future of theatre is bleak indeed.

--Bruce Miller


Jacquie said...


What a wonderful gift to offer the children of this community. My father was the one who took me to my first Broadway show…Grease! We were also very poor and even though we lived close to the city, going to the theatre was too expensive for us. But he knew I loved it and he would take me to a show once a year as a birthday gift.

I hope this starts a wild movement of donating or offering very cheap tickets to our youth when Richmond theatres can afford to do so. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! A city filled with children who would rather see theatre then a Batman movie…OK, maybe that’s going too far, because Batman ROCKS…but you know what I mean!

taylor b said...

nice thoughts bruce. i was also very fortunate to have parents who took me to see shows as a kid - all the way from our farm in powhatan! to them, it was important to take us 'downtown' every now and again so we would look outside our own little world, but it was also because they are both suckers for musicals! to us, it was always an exciting experience to get dressed up and drive to the city to the carpenter center or the mosque (as it was known all those years ago.)

i suppose that part of the reason that people don't bring their children to the theatre is the money, but i think an even larger factor is the convenience. i have a hard time believing that the average family in short pump can't afford to go see a show once or twice a year. (because seriously, how much is a movie ticket and how many of THOSE do they see each year??)

i think that the convenience of their suburban 'utopias' frequently tricks them into thinking that going in to 'town' is risky, dangerous, or beneath them. if 'guys and dolls' were playing on broad and lauderdale i bet you would sell out every night. how you can change that, i don't know. (but please never abandon the beautiful empire!)

also, i think that offering discount tickets for families who can't afford it is a wonderful WONDERFUL idea, because there really are some people out there who truly cannot come because of the cost.

as for the people who can afford to and choose not to? good luck. perhaps all of these movie musicals coming out these days will inspire some kids to drag their parents out!

Joy W. said...

My kids have been coming to the theatre since they were 2 weeks old. And I am truly grateful. Sean has seen Guys And Dolls about 5 times. He has loved it each time. He wants to do the show at our house, on our stage. He's playing Sky. Our children are blessed that they have the gift of theatre. Imagination is a powerful thing.

Steven Koehler said...

We too bring our children to as many cultural events as we can afford. I miss the treasure that is Theatre IV, and the lovely staff comps that cam with working there.

The offer you make is very generous Bruce, and one that I think will pay off. My theatre is in a relatively poor area of my small town. The tickets are pretty affordable, but for the people living around the theatre the cost is more often than not out of their range. We started Pay What You Can with my first show two years ago. Evey final dress is thrown open to the public at whatever rate they feel is appropriate. We sell out almost every time. Most exciting is that a good deal of the public that comes to these shows are from the neighborhood. There is a group of older women from the somewhat frightening retirement home near by, a young family of 5 that lives down the street and a few others that come to every single one of the 9 opportunities every year.

I have no idea if Theatre IV/Barksdale could afford a model like this, the costs are much higher per performance for you than for me, but the offer you make is just the right idea.

There is also Theatre Communication Groups Free Night. I don't know much about it as I am now running a community theatre and thus not a organizational member anymore, but the idea sounds great. If Rick is floating around this blog he can fill in a lot more about it than I.

I do hope that Guys and Dolls can find a younger audience, I have heard nothing but good things about the show and wish I could bring my children to see it.