The Dramaturg: Loving The Silent Tears

A couple of weeks ago, I started to get emails from representatives of the new musical, Loving The Silent Tears, inviting me to attend their red-carpet premiere that was held at the Shrine Auditorium this past weekend. In their words, “We would most appreciate a post-event editorial, complete with visuals, first-hand accounts, and all the magic of the ’unprecedented musical experience!’” By all appearances, the one-time-only performance of Loving The Silent Tears looked to be pretty damn memorable. On the one hand, it seemed kinda tepidly but awesomely star-studded. The play featured the immortal Jody Watley (“Real Love”!) and the much more mortal Jon Secada, along with pop stars from France, Vietnam, Italy, Ireland, Korea, Israel and China. It was written by a truly impressive collection of composers, including those behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Dreamgirls, Footloose, La Cage aux Folles, and Saturday Night Fever. And the evening’s activities included pre-show performances by aerialists and Cirque du Soleil dancers, an art exhibit and a banquet. Swank.

On the other hand, though the show’s theme is described as being about “humanity’s universal search for inner happiness,” (which is arrived at “by taking the audience on a magical train ride through 16 countries,” not just a ride, people, a train ride), the evening seemed geared equally towards a pro-vegetarian agenda (from the press release: “The incredible evening was emceed by an enthusiastic group of vegan and vegetarian celebrities,” including, I should note, Cory Feldman (?!?!)) and a celebration of the 19th anniversary of something called Supreme Master Ching Hai Day. A cursory investigation into this supposed supreme master reveals Ching Hai to be the innovator of the Quan Yin meditation method, which is advertised as the “best, easiest, and quickest” way to attain enlightenment which seems rather counter-intuitive but then again, what do I know about enlightenment. And while Ching Hai’s humanitarian efforts are pretty commendable, they are somewhat offset by evidence that Ching Hai is not only a bit of a publicity hound but also a somewhat unscrupulous businesswoman, leading me to suspect that the participation of this star-studded team was probably, primarily, ahem, financially motivated. And also, though Ching Hai is 62 years old, she looks to be no older than 35 in every picture I can find which for some reason makes me very scared of her.

All of which adds up to what I can only surmise was a supremely weird event and one that I’m vaguely sad to have missed. “Vaguely” is the operative word here though because it’s worth noting that it would have been relatively easy for me to see Loving The Silent Tears. Ostensibly, I didn’t go because I was working that night. But I was working at a restaurant, the type of job people in Los Angeles take specifically because of its flexibility and the relative ease with which one can take a night off. It would have required barely any effort at all on my part to get the night off and go see this show. And yet even knowing what I did about the show’s bizarro make-up, I remained generally apathetic towards it, a response mirrored by pretty much everyone I talked to. We were all aware of Loving The Silent Tears. How could you not be given the truly stupendous marketing blitz that the production undertook. The number of billboards that popped up advertising the musical alone made it a ubiquitous part of L.A.’s most important subculture: our car culture. And  there were the print ads, the TV and radio spots, the unceasing emails to theater bloggers of questionable legitimacy. So awareness wasn’t the problem. Except that it was. Because this widespread and very public effort towards awareness implies two things: a shit-ton of money and an open invitation for everyone to come see the show and this in turn denies the two things that would have made the show appealing to people like me. That is authenticity and exclusivity.

The former speaks to a weird and depressing bind that I suspect a lot of arts organizations face. That is the assumption that if you are financially successful enough to mount an effective advertising campaign, it means that you made your money by choosing to appeal to the lowest common denominator and if you did that, it means you sacrificed your integrity and your product is only going to appeal to the mouth-breathing cretins who have come to see Jon Secada and Jody Watley and magical train rides. Meanwhile, exclusivity equals coolness and coolness is a very valuable currency in today’s world. Exclusivity suggests that the product is there only to be found by those sufficiently qualified by their own intelligence and impeccable taste to go out and find it and it is then left to those tastemakers to make the thing popular, giving validation to those who judge their self-worth by the things that they like (a far larger segment of the population than anyone cares to admit and one that I have no shame in admitting I am a part of) and creating a more natural-seeming swell of interest in the product, thus bringing in those who have been conditioned to run from anything with even the slightest whiff of, yes, the inauthentic.

All of which is well and good but which also brings us to a paradoxical question that everyone in theater should be pondering over: how can you undertake the necessary, widespread effort at bringing awareness to your production when that effort and any awareness you might achieve automatically makes your production less than appealing to the demographic that you covet?

Filed Under: dylan southardFeaturedPonderings

Dylan Southard About the Author: Dylan Southard is the co-Artistic Director of Needtheater and the resident dramaturg for The Robey Theatre Company. He has worked with The Center Theatre Group, The Geffen Playhouse, The Theatre @ Boston Court, Centerstage Baltimore, Native Voices at the Autry, the Network of Ensemble Theatres, Theatre Dybbuk, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble and LoNyLa among others. He can be found @dylansouthard.

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  1. kelly says:

    i too was asked to review this show and found myself in the same quandry and predicament you so eloquently outline. I think part of the issue may be in the translation from a world wide communication to the “cool” LA people who read it. I would like to hear from someone who did go.

  2. Rudolf Beidleman says:

    I liked the one by Marcus and the one by Twain.

  3. RJ says:

    I’m sorry you felt ‘duped into attending’ but unfortunately you missed a fantastic event. I am not vegan, love my burgers and steaks (but I don’t like the inhumane way it comes to market and like many others just look the other way so to speak). I attended the event because it was a great opportunity to see 15 or so superb singers from around world and from different cultures come together in one musical.

    The musical itself was unforgettable. The artists were superb, the costumes and choreography breathtaking, the music enlightening, and the basic plot interesting. I left that musical with a renewed spirit that people and humanity can come together in peace. I am somewhat older (60+) and I had pretty much given up hope that the values I had grown up with about respect for my fellow man and compassion for living things have been tossed out the window by the generations that followed mine.

    Yes, there was a ton of money put up for advertising and the show itself (all from donations I might add) but so what? Not one person that evening felt the ‘vegan way’ was being crammed down their throat and the vegan banquet only demonstrated you can have a meal fit for a king that doesn’t involve fish or meat of any kind.

    I hope you watch the video when it comes out. Yes I know you will have to pay for it but have you at least seen the youTube summary video:

    http://youtu.be/L35_bTL0K0A

    Watch this and listen carefully to what is being said you will see all colors, cultures, male, female, vegan, non-vegan come together for this special event. Most importantly a clear message that it’s ok to search for your own inner peace and happiness and it’s more than ok to fail in this quest and the key is to keep getting up and fighting for happiness; because in the end we all as human beings deserve it.

  4. VC says:

    I did attend the show and it was a surprisingly refreshing event that LA has had for a long time. The arts is a common denominator which ties people together regardless of background. And using the arts to broaden the camaraderie and understanding among cultures is so needed in our world this day and age. To rebuff any of that effort is going against the underlying goal of the arts. Exclusivity and snobbishness is what causes animosity, hatred, and terrorism in this world. I applaud any endeavor to erase those boundaries and embrace the diverse cultures, backgrounds, and colors we are endowed with, which is what I felt at this event. To use theater, or the arts in general, as a tool to segregate the elite vs. non-elite reflects that one is not genuinely interested in the arts for what it truly stands for. I’m disappointed by this view and the time put into writing an article just to further spread such a disturbing perception.

    Found some clips from the show.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L35_bTL0K0A&feature=youtu.be
    To me, it looks fantastic with such “coolness” and at the same time, feels warm without any airs of “exclusivity.”

  5. Jason Rohrer Jason Rohrer says:

    Aside from a title that sounds like a poorly translated blurb on a bottle of curry, and the vaguely ridiculous synopses in numerous and varied emails, and the general unlikeliness of the creative and performing teams, and an ugly and amateurishly executed logo, and the sheen of illegitimacy the production gathered in my eyes after I had handbills thrust at me outside several upscale venues in the weeks leading up to the one-night-stand (an equally suspicious concept), I admit, I was tempted.

    VC, you might wish to consider that when one sees a lot of bad theater, one develops defense mechanisms. This show might have been the spiritual event of the millennium, but I would never have known, because it was promoted with the signs of stank all over it. That’s what Dylan’s writing about, and you missed it because you were more interested in making a political point than in appreciating his.

  6. Thomas says:

    I find it unprofessional to review an event with such distaste without even attending. The only poor reviews seem to come from those who did not attend the event. I attended and was fascinated at how they brought the international message of peace & unity to all who attended, vegan or not. It was breathtakingly beautiful the costumes, dances, and scenes, without even mentioning the beautiful music & unbelievable stars who all participated. Unfortunately it was only a one-time event, so any musical lover who missed it, won’t get another chance to see it live, but if you take a chance to look at the highlight video that RJ posted, hopefully you can get a taste of the wonderful feeling all who attended felt, and I hope there will be a DVD & CD release for which I could purchase in the future.

    http://youtu.be/L35_bTL0K0A

    I also would like to note that it was very touching that the whole event was meant to benefit 3 charities with a total of $300,000 donated. Next time, please try not to be cynical when you see something too good to be true, otherwise you will end up regretting having missed it.

  7. Colin Mitchell Colin Mitchell says:

    Again, Thomas, it seems that you, VC and RJ all missed the point of Dylan’s article. Which isn’t that surprising because, as Jason rightly notes, all of you seem bent on defending the ideological integrity of the event. Which is fine. But just so we’re clear – or at least I thought it was clear after reading the post – Dylan is more interested in criticizing the marketing of the event rather than the event itself, an event he did not attend and therefore could NOT critique.

    The essence of this – for me – obvious point is in his final line:

    “How can you undertake the necessary, widespread effort at bringing awareness to your production when that effort and any awareness you might achieve automatically makes your production less than appealing to the demographic that you covet?”

    It would be great if one of you guardians of the Silent Tears would address that perspective and not use the opportunity to again try and sell the event all over again.

  8. Thomas says:

    I understand where the article is coming from Colin, but it is for that exact reason why I believe the article itself is unnecessary. Why is it necessary to criticize an event based on its marketing? Could it be possible that they did not want to covet only theater & musical goers, but attempt to reach all people of all walks of life, so that everyone can have a chance to see it? Maybe the marketing blitz was a bit much, maybe not, but to judge an event based on its marketing efforts alone isn’t really an article worth writing. It’s almost the literal cliche of judging a book by its cover, and I don’t understand how one can enjoy or defend an article where a book critic literally judges the book by its cover, whether it be in a positive or negative light.

  9. Jason Rohrer Jason Rohrer says:

    Thomas, I liked the article a whole lot more than the show. I couldn’t like the show because I didn’t see the show. The enticement to see the show was nil, because of its “cover.” If you don’t think the cover matters, ask any book or magazine publisher. Or, for that matter, Ching Hai.

    This show was marketed to, among others, theater people like Dylan and Kelly and me, and based on the marketing, at least we three rejected the opportunity to see Jody Watley for free. That’s a failure of marketing, and that’s what the article criticizes: not the show but its selling. So in fact the article does Ching Hai a favor by pointing out that she must alter her marketing plan if she wishes, in future, to increase attendance among the people she invites. Like Dylan and Kelly and me.

  10. Thomas says:

    Jason, as a theatre/musical lover myself, I do understand your, as well as the others’, points. Unfortunately for any event, it is difficult to market to everyone. I myself was intrigued because there seemed to be something about it that was a lot different from most other musicals I’ve seen, and since it was a one-time only show, I did not want to regret missing it.

    I do hope all of you take a chance whenever you have some time, to watch some of the videos posted from this musical. As fellow theater people, I imagine you would enjoy what’s inside the book, even though the cover may not have appealed to you =).

  11. Colin Mitchell Colin Mitchell says:

    Fair enough, Thomas. Appreciate you being a part of the conversation.