Should Audiences Be Quiet in the Theater Essay

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Jim Crow

What I liked about this was the author's attempt to get at the spirit of Jim Crow by examining the work of T. D. Rice, known as Daddy Rice, the most famous "blackface" actor of the 19th century. It prompted questions in my mind, like, "Why did Rice think it would be a good idea to perform this way?" and, "What did his famous performances say about the audiences who watched them and their obvious demand for such entertainment?" Indeed, what I found most interesting was that Rice conceived Jim Crow in a way that was based on "cross-racialization" which was essentially the opposite of the direction in which the Jim Crow idea was eventually taken by sections of American society. In Rice's early conception, Jim Crow was based on an integrative concept of whites and blacks. It was not based so much on hatred for black people or poor people or any such thing, but rather it was based on the ideas that Rice saw firsthand the plays he wrote were about breaking the chains of bondage -- literally for the Jim Crow character but symbolically for all people.

So I found that very interesting and it has made me want to go and watch some of Rice's blackface shows, such as "Oh, Hush!" I think there is so much focus on racism and eliminating bias in today's world that it prevents us from actually engaging with our past and understanding how we got to where we are today. That is why I liked this chapter: it allowed me to better understand the history of Jim Crow and see how it developed and how conceptions of it changed -- from being a beloved type of character who told larger truths about ourselves on the stage to being a cruel concept upon which so much irrational hatred has been-based following the Civil War. Perhaps with Rice's death and the Civil War, there died something else in America, too -- perhaps it was the tolerance that existed. Following that era, the Bobo-mentality seems to have emerged victoriously, intolerantly crushing all opposing viewpoints -- which of course fostered more hostility and antagonism. Rice's work on the stage may have served as a kind of safety valve that Americans actually needed.

Quiet in the Audience, Please

I found this piece to be really disturbing. You would think that if people are going to a play they would want to actually watch it and not be on their phones, texting or filming. A play is a live experience and needs the audience to be engaged. If half the audience is disengaged, why are they there in the first place? This makes me think that stage performances may soon become a thing of the past as modern audiences or more interested in digital performances, in streaming movies, or in interacting with friends on phones -- as one person put it -- than in actually watching a live performance on stage. Technology has changed society so much that it has altered the way we think and the way we approach entertainment.

For those in the audience who still wish to enjoy a play, they perhaps have realized they are now in the minority.

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They are more and more surrounded by people who do not understand the relationship and do not have any interest in supporting it. This is very sad to me because it means that it is the end of an era, of an old way of life. I like to see the old customs remain, but modern society has become so fast, so digitalized, so self-absorbed that there is simply less and less room in the culture for the type of interaction required of live performance. The modern culture has been emptied out of patience and of respect for others. The stage is no longer a place of meaning for most people, and that means all the great material associated with the stage is being lost. This is very sad because people of today still need to learn lessons that the people of the past learned. However, the question for me is: Do they have to be learned in the same way? Do people of today still need to go to plays if they can learn the same lessons by watching something on Netflix? Or is going to play something unique? I think the latter is probably the case.

Finding Jim Crow

This chapter on "Finding Jim Crow" was interesting. It described how a prominent blackface actor created the Jim Crow character. What is interesting about this phenomenon is that the creator of the character rooted it in a background where whites and blacks actually lived and worked together. The creator was from Manhattan and there, as one critic put it, whites and blacks co-habitated on the stage and in living quarters. This made me realize that it was not so much the character of Jim Crow that was to blame for the racism that came afterwards as it was the racist reaction of certain persons in the nation who objected to the character in the first place. This evidently snowballed into more and more anger among a certain segment of the population. So for me, what I learned from this chapter was that the creator of Jim Crow as simply being an entertainer and delighting audiences by representing the foibles of Americana. However, for people like Bobo who resented this type of colorization and this type of enactment on the stage, it was a slap in the face of decency.

So from there Jim Crow took on a life of its own. It went from being a stage show that was meant to make people laugh at themselves to being a symbol of hatred. It happened that way because people like Bobo used the Jim Crow character to push forward their agenda of hate. In other words, they co-opted the character and used it to show why black people should not be living with white people, why they should be separate, and so on. This was not the original intention of the character, but Bobo and people like him seem to have missed that completely. They obviously already had a pre-conceived notion of race….....

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