Had an interesting chat with the crew of a Japanese documentary about Las Vegas theater that I think is worth sharing. Hope you agree (I quote from memory; this is by no means an accurate transcript).
Q: How do you think the Strip has influenced local theater?
A: Probably the biggest way is the talent pool. Many of what some call "community theaters" are inhabited by people who either once had professional careers, or still do, or had the talent to, but somehow got sidetracked. My experience has been you don't find that in much of America, apart from the big-theater towns. And the presence of just one or two pros in a show can uplift the talents of everyone else. As far as productions go, it's obvious the Strip is close to unbeatable when it comes to spectacle, although local theaters have done some pretty amazing stuff.
Q: How has local theater influenced the Strip?
A: I'm not sure we know the answer to that yet. Right now, there's just about zero influence when it comes to dramas. There's an effort to get the Strip interested in audience-participation spoofs with splatter zones, but I'm guessing that genre will burn itself out quickly. Maybe The Smith Center, which features touring productions, will open the eyes of some casino producers and convince them there's more than just spectacle, spoof and magic out there. "Million Dollar Quartet" had a good run at The Smith (Center), and I think it could be a great show for the Strip run.
Q: Has Cirque du Soleil had an influence on local theater?
A: Definitely, but maybe not in the way one would think. A lot of them (Cirque performers) have participated in community theaters. I've seen a good number of resumes that show a lot are formally trained actors. They're dying to stretch themselves (and not just physically) by tackling other kinds of work. And comic Rip Taylor did a dramatic, autobiographical monologue at the university, and I was surprised to discover what a fine dramatic actor he is. Then I found out, he, too, was formally trained. You don't get to see his considerable dramatic talent beneath all that confetti. Comedienne Rita Rudner once tried out an original play at a local playhouse. Maybe one day local theater will entice more Strip stars to do limited runs of shows that they've dreamed of doing but aren't commercial. A couple of weekends maybe of Celine Dion as Beatrice? Cher as Medea?
Q: What does good theater entertainment mean to you?
A: It's something that makes me feel more united with the people around me, and the world in general. It doesn't matter what it is. Even if I'm just watching a man slipping on a banana peel, I'm recognizing, along with the rest of the audience, the arbitrary pain that we've all dealt with. After all, there's nothing really funny about a man hurting himself on a banana peel. But we're laughing at ourselves; at the recognition of the craziness of being alive. It's very moving when that kind of communal experience brings together a roomful of strangers.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.