Sunday, 29 May 2011
To Prepare or Not To Prepare.......
Something which caught my attention in last weekend"s papers, and which I had intended to raise then, was an article about the need to prepare, to do your homework, as it were, before you take yourself off to any sort of cultural event. I should have made a note of it at the time, but I was rushing out to go to Stratford and thought I would come back to it on the Sunday. Of course, I didn't, so I may not be quoting the opinions with any accuracy but it was quite simply because I was going over to Stratford that it caught my attention and I thought I would ask what you thought about it.
As far as I remember, the gist of the argument was that if you were going to a play or an art exhibition or a concert it was pretty much your duty to have done some preparation before you went so that you could fully appreciate the work being laid before you. So, if you were on your way to a concert you should have listened to the music beforehand so that you could judge the quality and interpretation of the specific performance you heard. If going to an exhibition you should have researched the artist's portfolio and the context in which s/he was painting. And, if you were going to the theatre you should have attempted to read the play before you went.
As I say, this struck a chord with me at the time, because I was just on my way to see the RSC's production of Philip Massinger's play of 1632, The City Madam and earlier in the week I had picked up a copy of the programme precisely so that I could read the scholarly articles which the Company always commissions over a pre-preformance lunch. These articles don't give away the story, but they do cast light on the particular aspects of the play and its original context that the director has seen as important. I find that they help to focus my mind on the world in which I am going to spend the next three hours before I ever take my seat and I do feel as if I enjoy the whole experience the more for having put some effort into it. However, a couple of weeks prior to that I had been at a discussion with the director of another of this season's offerings, the 're-imagined' Cardenio, where the director, Greg Doran, had specifically asked that we shouldn't read the play itself before we saw it. I probably respect Greg Doran more than any other theatre director around, so I hastily stuffed my newly purchased copy in my bag and haven't taken it out since. I don't see the production for another month or so.
I can't really comment on the concert aspect because I've been going to classical performances now on a regular basis for over fifty years and it is very rare indeed that I go to hear a piece of music I don't already know. If I do, it's likely to be something new that isn't available to listen to beforehand anyway. I have, however, recently been to see the Jan Gossaert exhibition at the National Gallery (post to follow) and for various reasons wasn't able to read up about the artist's work or life beforehand. I did pop into the Gallery prior to going to the exhibition itself with the intention of picking up the catalogue to read through over an early lunch but it was so vast that I couldn't even face the thought of lugging it round the exhibition with me and so ended up not buying it until I was ready to come home. And I'm sorry about that because I'm certain that if I had had more context into which I could have placed Gossaert's work I would have got a lot more out of the paintings themselves. Preparation would have helped.
So, where do you stand? Do you prefer to go to these things 'blind'? Do you feel the need, or the duty, to have done some preparatory homework? Or do you laugh at the very idea of having the time to research before you experience a great cultural event? I'm interested to know.