You are here: Archive Home > Patience > Savoynet Discussion > Updating Debate

GENERAL DEBATE

DAVID CRAVEN: Patience appears to be one of the most common works to be significantly updated and rewritten. Yet, in many ways, Patience as it is written is far more up to date than many of the other works in the canon. It focuses on fads and faddism, and if anything, our society's focus on this has increased.

It may be that because Patience is so relevant, everyone can't resist the chance to show this by hammering the point home with the updates.

ANDREW CROWTHER: I agree completely. Why update it, when it's already so relevant? The audience doesn't really need to know anything about Aestheticism except what can be put in a shortish programme note: the self important cult figures, the deliberately incomprehensible jargon, the adoring and uncritical groupies all these are too familiar today to be missed, even in the clothes of the Aesthetes. Gilbert was too intelligent a man to confine his satire to the surface things which perish with the fad: as ever, he directs his attack to the essentials, which never change.

Also, by retaining the trappings of Aestheticism you bring the audience into a world which, though familiar, is also strange: you remind them that there are other worlds than theirs, in which humans behaved in remarkably familiar ways.

JUDITH WEIS: Since Patience has sometimes been produced in updated versions (e.g. hippie or beatnik poets), I've often wondered why some of the references in the 2nd act finale haven't been changed such as a Brooks Brothers young man or Bloomingdales young girls, etc. Or maybe such changes have been attempted and I'm not familiar with them.

DAVID CRAVEN: Park Ridge (Illinois) in their superb updating of Patience last season did use the line "Brooks Brothers" young man in the finale.

JUDITH WEIS: Maybe "updated" is not the right term perhaps Sewell and Cross and Swears and Wells and all those things still exist in England. I guess I mean references which would be meaningful to a US audience.

CLIVE WOODS: Alas, not now. I believe that these lines have been replaced by "Marks and Spencer's young girls" by directors of the "updating" persuasion.

MICHAEL RICE: My theory behind how to do Patience is to leave it alone. If you are producing Patience, chances are you are a group that performs a lot of Gilbert & Sullivan. (I have seen very few companies perform it that were not strictly G & S.) If this is the case, you generally have a regular audience base that attends your shows, most of which are probably big fans of G & S. Therefore, there is no need to "update" or change the libretto to make it more acceptable because most of the people in the audience either know the opera already or are G & S fans in general.

The people will either come or they won't. There's no real way to attract people to see an updated Patience because you only have fliers or at most a full color poster to advertise. I've never seen an advertisement for Patience that claimed "updated with all obscure references expunged!"

DAVID CRAVEN: Actually... it all depends. I have sent out press releases and photos to newspapers emphasizing details of productions. Sometimes things do get mentioned in the PSA's and the like that are released by the media. For an updated Patience it might be something like...

"What happens when a Howard Stern like figure tries to impose his will on a bevy of beautiful Victorian Maidens... find out in the Savoyaires production of Patience... February 3031st at the Chicago Theater..."

(No we have not yet done Patience during my time at the SA so the above is purely hypothetical)... When I was involved with a production of Sorcerer, we actually managed to draw quite a few Wicans by publicizing at their Bookstores and by suggesting that this show, in the long term, would help their image... In fact, quite a number of them still regularly attend... Of course we did lose a number of fundamentalists off of our board and out of our cast, but all in all it was worthwhile...

And groups that have updated have emphasized this in PR.. not as directly as you stated it, but direct enough...

The problem is that those of us on Savoynet are the exceptions to the rule. Frankly, I would greatly enjoy a production structured to the Savoynet tastes, but I also believe that such a production would be a financial disaster.

BRUCE I. MILLER: If what you are suggesting is that "SavoyNet tastes" means to produce Patience as Gilbert and Sullivan wrote it, I think your statement is, frankly, ridiculous. Patience may not sell as many tickets as some of the other G & S shows, but I would bet that there have been a good many productions of Patience, done along traditional lines, which have not been "financial disasters".

SARAH MANKOWSKI: The traditional approach is most appropriate for the general audience, since many in the audience may not have seen Patience before. Let them see it as it was meant to be seen. I don't think that it's necessary to understand every nuance in order to have a good time. Say what you will about the music, it certainly is energizing.

Giving Patience a new setting, or updating the lyrics, could be seen as parody of Patience, and it wouldn't make sense to parody something that is unfamiliar to the audience. Therefore, it seems to me that you wouldn't want to update unless your audience was familiar enough with the material to appreciate your changes.

DAVID CRAVEN: The problem with that is that without an understanding of the specific artistic movements they simply will not get the primary points of the humor. Of all of the shows, perhaps even more than Iolanthe, Patience requires a significant degree of education and sophistication to understand its finer points. Without such training, the audience's minds will shut right down when Gilbert engages in his version of Wilde et al.

ANDREW CROWTHER: I don't think so. I think I've covered this before, but I think an audience doesn't need to know more about Aestheticism than can be fitted into a short programme note. The characters and attitudes are still topical, and don't need pushing for an audience to make the connection. I suggested a couple of months ago that maybe Bunthorne/Grosvenor could acquire one or two of the physical characteristics of modern day equivalents, but that these shouldn't be more than hints.

DAVID CRAVEN: The "snooze" potential is very high. Add onto this a parody song with topical references so out of date that even a Victorian Scholar would have some trouble in picking them up, and you end up with something resembling attending an opera in a language which you do not speak and for which no translation is available. You may enjoy it, you may even get some of the points, but you will miss out on much of the detail.

ANDREW CROWTHER: Some of the points? You exaggerate the incomprehensibility factor, I think. The opera is primarily a story, of the rivalry of pseudointellectuals, of the rivalry of high and low culture, of love. Aestheticism is the background, and you don't need to understand all the finer points to get the gist. And the heavy Dragoon song can be enjoyed today simply as a barrage of names. People do love such displays of erudition, even if they don't understand a word of it themselves imagine a patter song consisting entirely of obscure medical terms, or (I speak hypothetically, of course) of all the chemical elements....

SARAH MANKOWSKI: The finer points, yes. I certainly lacked the education to understand the finer points in Patience the first time around. But it intrigued me enough to do some research.

DAVID CRAVEN: An updating will, in fact, make the basic points that Gilbert is trying to make far more obvious if the parody is directed at a fad which the audience is familiar with. Hence, for example, restaging it with Rap on one side and Country and Western on the other.

Respectfully speaking, you are overestimating the taste and intellect of your audience.

BRUCE I. MILLER: Affirmative action advocates have used similar demeaning and condescending arguments for years. Why not just give them bread and circuses?

NEIL ELLENOFF: Sally Lunns would be nice. I would say gay Sally Lunns but that, my children, is another story.

SARAH MANKOWSKI: In yesterday's USA Today, not exactly a paper known for sophistication, I noticed an article about the renewed interest in Oscar Wilde a new off Broadway play, an English film, new books. While much of this interest is likely to be centered around his trials, it seems to me that this could be an ideal time for a traditional staging of Patience.

I see nothing wrong with throwing in a few topical reference, if you can do it well. It ain't easy. Whenever I try it, I end up feeling inadequate.

If Patience, indeed any of the G&S works were that obvious, I seriously doubt they would have survived for a hundred years. My favorite books, films and plays tend to be those that with each new reading or viewing, I notice something that I've never noticed before. There is a renewed sense of discovery.

Whether it is traditional or revised, I suspect that the average audience member is slightly more sophisticated than the average audience member of the latest blockbuster movie. Ok, so a few may grumble that they didn't get it. But would you really want to stage a production that is so obvious as to be immediately understood by the dimmest minds in your audience?

J. DERRICK McCLURE: I think Andrew's exactly right -- you don't need to know more than a programme note can tell you about the aesthetic movement to appreciate Patience, because the story is timeless and the aesthetic background merely that -- a background. Bunthorne and Grosvenor are two of the best comic characters in the canon even to audiences who have never heard of Whistler, Patmore, Swinburne or Wilde. And the colourful, exotic and (should be anyway) very beautiful aesthetic dresses should add an element (like the Japanese setting of The Mikado) which audiences will find attractive, even if they don't know what a Rossetti or a Holman Hunt painting looks like.

HARRIET MEYER: I first saw Patience at age about 12 in a high school production and loved it. I did not know from the aesthetic movement at the time what a great introduction! I suggest that a person can come to a traditional Patience new and appreciate it, and I could name a number of other genres that serve to introduce the uninitiated to an imaginary culture or historical period and kindle a new interest or simply entertain because they are done well.

I don't mean to contradict David's coffeehouse and university marketing idea, and I know I'm not typical (who on Savoynet is?), but I think Patience might have wider appeal than you postulate. OTOH, you have actual production and performance experience, and I'm just speculating.

ARTHUR ROBINSON: I think I was twelve too when I first read Patience (I've only seen it once well behind Utopia, which I've seen three times), and knew nothing about the aesthetic movement, but I enjoyed it tremendously. (Patience, not the aesthetic movement.) As I was allergic to sentimental love stories and the conventional hero type (modest and unfailingly polite), I especially liked Grosvenor's lines (e.g., "Gifted as I am with a beauty that has probably not its rival on earth..." "...it is my hideous destiny to be madly loved at first sight by every woman I come across," and especially the Patience Grosvenor interchange: "I am plain homely unattractive." "Why, that's true!").

Actually, thirty years later, I still find the same things funny a clear case of arrested development.

ANDREW CROWTHER: Last time I saw Patience, Bunthorne was singing "If you're anxious for to shine", and something odd happened to me. I thought to myself: Gilbert's being too satirical here he's letting his resentments show. It occurred to me that the song was too obviously a sneer at people like Wilde to be entirely pleasant. But on the other hand it's so difficult to assess songs which you know so well, have heard again and again and again, and have admired from a technical point of view. Maybe my mind was playing tricks.

But it did occur to me that this song was among the less durable pieces of satire in the piece. (As satire, I mean, not as a catchy song, in which realm it's proved its durability pretty well...)

HENRY ODUM: Hmm... I don't know about that for me at least, what could be more timeless than the following lines?:

"If you're anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line as a man of culture rare, you must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms and plant them everywhere...".

Was true then and is true now, as is:

"...you must lie upon the daisies and discourse in novel phrases of your complicated state of mind the meaning doesn't matter if it's only idle chatter of a transcendental kind."

True in the 19th and 20th centuries. And there's the "...and everyone will say as you walk your mystic way, if that's not good enough for him, which is good enough for me..." sentiment also holds true.

AARON HUNT: Someone has viewed Bunthorne's "If you're anxious for to shine" as less than I see from my view.

I almost always use this piece as my G & S patter audition piece, as it does not call for chorus, is easily adapted to small, audition room staging, lies better for me than many of the other patters with the repeated arpeggios to D and E above middle C, and seems to be timeless to me in a way that many of these great numbers are not.

ANDREW CROWTHER: 'Twas I. I don't think I expressed myself very lucidly originally, so I'd like to try and make myself clearer.

The parody of Aestheticism is, on the whole, artistically integrated into the self-contained world of the opera. It wouldn't matter all that much if Gilbert were writing about some invented cult of his own, because the "types" are so recognizable, and everything is related to the rules of the world Gilbert has created. Though Gilbert pretends all this is taking place in 1880s England, Castle Bunthorne is as shut off from the rest of the world as, say, his Japan.

But when Bunthorne is alone and unobserved, he suddenly steps out of this world and directly addresses the audience. And when I last saw Patience and had that odd feeling I described before, what I was feeling was that Bunthorne wasn't supposed to be addressing us, the audience there in the 1990s, but the original Victorian philistines of 1881. He's saying, "Well, we know these strange poseurs with their velvet knee breeches and their long hair. But there's nothing to them just air. Observe how easy it is to get noticed! All you have to do is this...." etc. It suddenly felt odd to me, this song, because Gilbert was writing about something real and specific to his age, something not quite in keeping with the rest of the opera. (This is still very vague, and I can't prove it, but I'll blunder on...) The song is very well crafted, and very witty, but it's (IMHO) too topical.

I'm afraid that's as lucid as I'm going to make it.

HARRIET MEYER: Perhaps it's because of the special world created, as you so insight fully describe, that when Bunthorne sings this song, the audience, now prepared, can recognize the eternal "poseur" phenomenon repeating itself within the Bunthorne Aesthetic movement context.

Rivals who capture fancies seem an ever renewing phenomenon, and hence, I would agree with Henry Odum's earlier post that the song remains topical. For aestheticism read beat, new age, or the trend of your choice. Jargon and costumes, as Gilbert showed, are components.

Perhaps the recurrence of this manifestation of human nature fads and faddishness, as David Crowther said is the reason Patience has received updates of many, various kinds, as described on Savoynet, more than others of the canon.

My offspring will derogate some of their peers as "posers" pronounced that way, but, I am sure, based on their definition of the term spelled "poseurs". This was a new one on me, but is more proof, I think, of the continued topicality of Patience and of Bunthorne's "If you're anxious..."

TOM SHEPARD: Poseurs are part and parcel of every generation.

HENRY ODUM: I've been thinking about the debate about whether or not to update various works from other cultures, and from the past, such as Patience, etc...

I certainly do agree that it's appalling how much history, etc., today's uninitiated general public doesn't know, but I don't know that works by necessity have to be changed to "help them relate" as it were not if the themes are universal.

ED GLAZIER: I've done Patience more than any other G & S: at the University of Michigan, I was a dragoon once, and Bunthorne in another production. And I've played Bunthorne in the two most recent productions of the Stanford Savoyards.

All of these productions were fairly traditional, or at least not updated to represent some other aesthetic movement. In all cases, there seemed to be no reluctance on the part of the audience to accept the satire, even though expressed through specifics they might not be familiar with.

THEODORE C. RICE: Two items on the post prompt me to reply: That the society need not be G&S oriented, nor the audience be G&S fans is adequately borne out by the success of Patience in Tehran about 25 years ago.

The impetus for the production came from the English Speaking Union it was their first dramatic effort ever, and was intended to draw more people into the sphere of the club. We had English and American principals, for the most part, but our Patience was an Egyptian, and Jane an Israeli. No Iranian members of cast or chorus, though they weren't excluded.

At that period, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays were observed as Holy Days, and performances were presented on the preceding evenings, for a full month. The 800 seat auditorium of the Iran America Society was filled for every show, and the audience was, probably, 2/3 Iranian.

We had the double gratification of performing a charming operetta, and of introducing G&S to a large number of hitherto unenlightened, and, mostly, delighted people.

Previous Topic
Next Topic

Archive Home  |   Patience  |  Discussion Home

Page Created 21 August, 2011