A bit of ironic synchronicity came together, directing my attention to how social trends can play out in different areas of Mass Media, theatre and music. Technically live theatre can be considered a form of Mass Media and at one time was a dominant form. Music is an art medium that can be conveyed directly to the audience or transmitted by way of a variety mass media, either in a live broadcast or a recording.
This past Sunday, my wife and I watched the live broadcast of the Tony Awards. The biggest story leading up to the show was Neil Patrick Harris performance in the revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Harris, as anticipated, won Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, for Hedwig and The Angry Inch. The play won for best revival of a musical.
For those unfamiliar with the plays premise, the protagonist, played by Harris, is Hedwig, a transgender glam rock performer whose botched surgery leaves her between worlds. It is a search for identity, love and creative expression.
The play is considered a revival, having played first as an off Broadway production in 1998. As the original creators of the work noted, Broadway was not quite ready for the play 16 years ago; it was ready for it now. The relatable TV star persona & marketing power, that Harris brought to the box office, marked it mainstream.
This brings me to some Media Principles in action. Keep in mind that all Mass Media have business interests that depend on reaching the Target Audience with an appropriate message. Those placing commercials with the award show broadcast need to reach their audience.
Those producing the shows need to attract enough attention to their shows to either get people to come to see the shows in New York or eagerly anticipate the touring productions & purchase the cast recordings.
When it comes to values, beliefs and ideologies, Mass Media both conveys them and intentionally/unintentionally shapes/re-enforces them. The Tony broadcast illustrates this. Just as there was once a time when showing a cross racial relationship was breaking through a wall of prejudices & social expectations and establishing a new norm of acceptance of society’s transgender citizens; we are now seeing that occur on the mainstream Broadway musical stage and having it broadcast live on a Sunday night on the CBS network. This is a long way from The Ed Sullivan Show.
In order for the Broadway musical theatre to thrive in competition with other forms of Mass Media it must go past nostalgia and embrace the diversity of 21st century America. There were two instances in this broadcast that speaks to this transition . First is the entertaining meeting of The Music Man and Rap Music when Hugh Jackman, LL Cool and T.I. rap the Music Man.
The second instance was the emotional history making moment, Tony Award winner Audra McDonald’s sixth Award .
Now with these examples , one would think that forward motion in diversity and acceptance had really begun to turn a corner, but not all areas of live musical performances & related Mass Media adjust at the same pace – there are always Target Audience expectations and Business Interests. This is where I bring the following to your attention, a life imitating art, ……. or was the art just truer than we imagined. As I said at the opening of the post , it was all triggered by a ironic bit of synchronicity. After viewing Tony Award show, I came upon this headline on the CBC news site, Transgender pianist shunned in U.S., gets encore in Edmonton
“Classical pianist Sara Davis Buechner played with some of the most prestigious orchestras in the United States, winning praise from presidents and capturing awards that pointed to a promising career as one of the best in the world”,……… until David came out in 1998 as a transgender woman. Take note of the year. It was the year of an Off Broadway production and the year that the New York Philharmonic and the American Symphony in Carnegie Hall closed its doors in Sara’s face.
After facing much emotional turmoil, and a botched surgical procedure that later needed correcting, Sara was able to find a way back to her career and life. Fortunately, Sara found a transition to Canada proved to be more accommodating. The conductors and fellow musicians were only familiar with her as Sara and judged the musicianship. She regained her 60 concert performances a year schedule. She became teacher at the University of British Columbia in 2003. “In 2012, she spoke before a standing committee on human rights in Ottawa. Last year, she wrote an essay about her life that ran in the New York Times.”
She has been performing in America, but making inroads is slow. Perhaps after Neil Patrick Harris’s performance and award on the Tony Awards Show, the world of classical music will re-discover Sara. Who knows, she might be on the Tonys next year.