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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Safe Palate

In the little town where I grew up there was a little restaurant called El Amigo. All of the locals, bilingual or not, referred to it knowingly incorrectly as "The El Amigo." I pointed that out to my dad one time, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said, "That's just what everybody calls it."
It's still there, and if you're ever in Ignacio, Colorado, I highly recommend that you drop in for some great Mexican Food. (I think it's now called Julie's El Amigo. I don't know who Julie is, or why it didn't become El Amigo de Julia. It's been a long time since I've been back.)
Anyway, often when I went into The El Amigo with my family or friends for lunch or dinner, there was an old rancher sitting down to eat. I don't remember his name, so I'll call him "Red," because he looked like the sort of fellow who would be called Red, suggesting that his white hair had at one point been crimson, his leathery cheeks had at another time been rosy from life rather than from drink and the sun, and that his limping gait had once been the strut of a rooster.
When Red came in, he simply walked over to a table and sat down. He was brought a glass of water, followed quickly by a cup of coffee, into which he would surreptitiously add something from a small metal flask. He was never handed a menu, and after a few minutes he would be brought his meal, which he would eat quickly out of habit, then pore over the thin newspaper or whisper off-color flirtations to the waitresses before eventually standing up with some difficulty, hobbling out to his pickup truck, and driving back out to the mesa.
One day I asked one of the waitresses why they never gave him a menu.
"He comes in every day, and he only ever orders the same thing: the Diamond Special," she answered.
"Always?" I asked.
"Always," she shrugged.
"He never tries anything else? Ever?"
My dad said that sometimes old farmers get a bit set in their ways.
"Isn't it kind of sad that he only eats the same thing every day?" I asked my Dad later on one of our long drives down to Aztec, New Mexico.
"Maybe," my dad replied, "but he always knows he's going to like what he gets."
"I wouldn't like it anymore after about the twentieth time in a row I had it."
"Maybe not," my dad smiled. Then he turned up the radio because he heard the words "Marty Robbins" spoken amid the native speech on the all-Navajo station that played what my dad called "the good country music," and I sat back quietly to the strains of "Down in the west Texas, town of El Paso. . ."

Over the last few days as I have been reading the recent "ho-hum" season announcements on John Moore's Running Lines Blog, I was reminded of old Red and his Diamond Special.
I was reminded, because I have begun to wonder if artistic directors and producers in this town think that they are picking shows for audiences full of tired, sad old cowpokes whose adventurous spirit left them decades ago. I wonder, too, if some of the audiences don't feed into that stereotype by continuing to go spend their money on only the most familiar of shows - even if they've recently seen the same production elsewhere recently.
I have been critical - on this blog and elsewhere - of publicly-funded theatres that insist upon pandering to the least-adventurous members of the Denver theatre audience, and I don't intend to stop that anytime soon. Certainly one of the worst things about the glut of theatre companies in this region (aside from an increase in mediocre productions) is this: when a company does decide to do something audacious, they often struggle to pull the audience away from one of the more familiar productions around town - no matter how amateurishly produced.
We could get into a whole chicken-or-the-egg debate here about who is most responsible for some of the more blasé offerings season after season, but the truth is that everyone's at fault: both the companies that choose repetitive and imitative seasons, and the audiences who flock to only (and fill the coffers of only) the most familar, mass-produced, homages rather than reinterpretations of the same dozen or so shows.
Unlike old Red, however, both parties here have it within themselves to change, and - as my past appeals to the production side of the problem appear to have thus far fallen upon deaf ears - I make my entreaty to the audience.
Let one of the productions of Sound of Music or one of the Tuna-somethings or Escanaba-somethings go by this time. (I assure you that there will be another one along before you know it.) Deliberately pick something that you've not heard of (or heard little of) before. (Read the description or review, naturally, we don't want you to pick something off the menu to which you're "allergic.") Go see that. Yes it will be a different experience than you had the last seven times you saw Grease (this year), but that is the point, isn't it? Art is supposed to be adventurous! Appreciators of art should be equally adventurous or else they aren't really appreciators, are they?
We could have a big menu here or a very small one. It all depends upon what people decide to order.
Hmm. Is anybody else hungry for enchiladas?


Jesi said...

yay! i wasn't hallucinating. i thought this was on livejournal and when i couldn't find this post i thought i had imagined it. hahaha!

as i wrote in your livejournal, not sure which comment you'll see frist, but sometimes when people have too many choices they don't make a decision, ie, they go with the familiar. i can understand why people do this, i go with the familiar but at the same time i don't understand it.

i'm processing a collection where i work, (we don't just get rare, unique books, we also get people's collections which can consist of their diaries, papers, letters, etc), this woman saved all her old playbills from the 20s, 30s, etc, anyways, i noticed that she saw Richard II three times in one year. 3 times! in one year! and they were just months apart. and i couldn't help but think why? did she just really love the play? or the actors? the director? what was it about this play? all the rest of the playbills are for different plays, for the most part, so it's just curious.

i think people are lazy and really don't want to have to think about making a choice, so they go with the familiar.

Anonymous said...


I think that there is one aspect that sometimes gets overlooked in the tired repeat of shows, and that is the actor.

I know that I myself hope for the chance to play some of the roles I've seen in the past, and that some companies repeat this to keep their actors satisfied in trying their hands at parts they never have gotten to play (and then have a built in family of audience willing to go and see the show). But I also sometimes wish that the directors would stretch the roles outside of the box they were originally cast in. That would allow me to play the part of a 6 foot leading man even though I'm only 5 foot 7 inches. Will it ever happen? Doubt it, (unless I'm doing Forum or Producers) but there is always hope.

Brady Darnell said...

I'm afraid that producers catering to actors or directors who want to take their shot at a show that's been recently produced elsewhere is a major contributing factor to what I see as the problem of too many and too redundant theatre companies in the Denver area.
Now, I'm all for non-traditional casting but not if it means more versions of the same show until every actor who wants to play a particular role has had their chance to play it.