Sunday, 29 May 2011

To Prepare or Not To Prepare.......

Well, I don't know what it was that hit me last weekend, but I'm very glad it seems to be on its way out, helped, I'm sure, by all your good wishes.  I haven't even felt up to any decent convalescent reading, so I can't make myself feel better by making the rest of you jealous with the tales of all the good reading time I've had.  Still, showing off would not be good for my soul, I'm sure, so maybe it's better that way.  To be perfectly honest, I still feel as if I am a Bear of very little brain, so excuse me if what I write over the next few days makes very little sense indeed.  And the first person who says, "So what's different?" gets knocked straight off my Christmas card list.

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.


  1. Hello Annie,

    Glad to hear you are on the mend and feeling a little better.

    Culture to me, is very much a mood oriented experience and I try not to compare performances, so wouldn't do any background research first, only as a brief over-view, to acquaint myself with the performers backgrounds.

    The same experience can be enjoyed in many different, unique ways and can still leave me with a feeling of fulfillment, although it may have been performed in a completely diverse fashion to that which I had previously seen.


  2. How interesting! I was thinking about this very question last week as I was packing for our trip to see Macbeth and then on to Marlow and London. Normally if I'm going to a performance I like to know as much as possible about it in advance, but this time I didn't. I'd read Macbeth many years ago at school - that's all - and had seen performances several years ago, one a professional one (not the RSC) and one a outdoor student performance at one of the Oxford colleges. So I knew the basics. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, maybe all the more so because it came over so fresh to me and at the same time I recognised a lot of the words and waited with anticipation for the events as they were brought to life in front of me.

    I went to the theatre before the performance to buy the programme but only looked at the cast list and scan read some of the articles, leaving it until the next day to read in more detail. Maybe I would have liked to read it more carefully beforehand but reading it afterwards extended the performance anyway.

    (I've emailed you about Wenlock Books)

  3. Yvonne, I certainly agree about there being many different ways to interpret any cultural experience. I have seen at least a dozen different productions of Macbeth' for example, and while I wouldn't want to say that I thought all of them successful, I have learnt something more about the play itself from each one.

    Margaret, I'm so glad you enjoyed the current 'Macbeth', it's such a relief that the new theatre has opened with a hit. I suspect that for me a Shakespeare play is rather different from other cultural experiences because I know them so well and have seen most of them so often (I defy anyone to say they have seen 'Timon of Athens' often) that I am always going to be more interested now in the directors take than I am in the text. That's a shame really.

  4. Glad you are feeling better!

    As to doing my homework before a cultural outing, well, it depends on what I am going to. Most of the time if I am going to a Shakespeare play or something I will be familiar with the play before I see it. For more modern things I don't think there is any reason to do any homework at all. Art galleries make it a point to provide background information on the exhibit and it is also very likely that I am already familiar with the artist's work anyway. So there's my answer, it depends. :)

  5. Glad to know that you are doing better
    I do try to prepare coz I believe that it adds to the experience. But I don't do it always - esp if I am going out with my sister coz I am sure she would done all research possible and she will provide the appropriate information when required!
    But I think its a really good habit
    BTW - I am from St.Louis,MO and we have a Shakespeare Festival going on - what that is , that for the last two three weeks - actors have been reading the plays at different public locations across the town. All you have to do is show up and listen to them. The festival ends with a three week performance of "The taming of the shrew" in our public park- it will be a fully costumed performance by seasoned actors out in the open and free to all. I am looking forward to catching a performance

  6. Stefanie, I couldn't agree more. It depends. Have you ever tried the record commentaries that art galleries seem to supply these days?

    Vipula,there is nothing like going with someone who can fill you in on what is important but knows enough to leave out what isn't. What a marvellous time you must have been having with your Shakespeare festival. Which plays have you managed to catch? Do go and see 'The Taming of the Shrew'. I'm just coming to the end of teaching it and I would love to know what you think of the production.

  7. I've not tried those before mostly because I find it really annoying to walk around a gallery where a bunch of people are wearing headphones so loud that I can stand next to them and hear the recording. It also makes them completely oblivious to their surroundings. I have lost track of how many times I have been stepped on because the be-headphoned person next to me didn't realize I was there. I am sure the information is really interesting but maybe I am old fashioned in my preference to read the plaque next to the work and then stand and contemplate the art in silence with the occasional whisper between me and my husband.

  8. Oh good, I tried to comment a couple of days ago, just after my return from Japan, and Google gave me the real runaround. All looks good today. Now, all I have to do is remember what I was going to say!

    Firstly, though, I'm sorry you've been feeling poorly and hope you continue to improve.

    Re answer is it depends. If its classical music or opera I don't know, I will do some homework. We attend Musica Viva chamber concerts here and they produce a series of "talks" online to check before the concert. I find them useful - they might be about the composer, the period, the piece, the instruments. Like you I've been going to concerts for a few decades but there always seems to be something new to learn.

    I tend not to do such homework for theatre, largely I suppose because it's an oral/verbal form of art. But I think preparation could help there as well.

  9. Stefanie, I feel just the same way about them, but wondered if I was missing something.

    WG, there seems to be a problem at the moment and a lot of people are having trouble across the blogger spectrum. I'm glad you're back safely. One of our local orchestras provides pre concert talks and I always enjoy them. The theatre sessions I've been going to this summer have been a new venture and they seem to have been aimed as much at people who have already seen the production as those who have yet to go. I must say I commend the directors who are willing to put themselves on the line to answer questions and defend the work they've done. Mind you, so far they've all been successful productions. It might be more difficult if they have a flop on their hands!