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Do you want talent or enthusiasm?

Citizen Staff Writer

When it comes to achieving satisfaction as a member of the audience, which is the most important quality to seek in an artist – talent or enthusiasm? Generally speaking in the arts, when you’re young it’s enthusiasm that is most important. Then as you grow older, the appreciation for actual talent grows, too.

We start out loving rock ‘n’ roll, then end up embracing symphonies and opera. Or at least saving up $200 for a ticket to watch Elton John perform in a tuxedo. All that seems logical enough.

But even within a single discipline, the argument thrives. The less talent you actually have, the more enthusiastic you dang well better be about your performance. Opera singers can have powerhouse projection. Concert pianists can go crazy on the keys.

Actors with wild hair can dive deep within themselves and have a convincing nervous breakdown on stage eight times a week. In today’s overheated culture where exaggeration thrives, arts aficionados can seriously wonder if being extremely enthusiastic is also an invaluable talent. It sure seems to sell.

Performing with taste and shaded sensibilities hardly attracts any attention anymore. Only those hipper-than-thou elitists take the time to appreciate a sensitive performance.

A couple of weeks ago this question was alive and well in Tucson when singer/actor Kristé Belt opened downtown in the one-woman musical “Tell Me On A Sunday.” That same weekend on the East Side, Christopher Johnson started screaming out rock songs for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

Now. . . granted . . . there probably weren’t many people who saw both shows. The kids rocked out with Hedwig and the grown-ups appreciated Kristé.

But theater reviewers don’t get to choose. They must see everything. So that weekend all of them diligently took their note pads to both productions, watched thoughtfully then asked themselves, “Is this crap, or what?”

In terms of pure talent – defined as the ability to sing a complicated series of notes on pitch and in rhythm at exactly the same split-second as the orchestra – Kristé had it. As well as the skill to perform each song while displaying a variety of personality traits. She received high marks for polished singing technique, high marks for developing an absorbing character whose arc of experience was insightful.

“Tell Me On a Sunday” became a story of personal courage presented with exceptional talent and insight, definitely worthy of receiving an A. Kristé is a talented performer in service to a talented playwright, Andrew Lloyd Webber.

But really, in the eyes of over-sugared high school students fueled on fast food, “Tell Me On A Sunday” could also be boring. To the uninvolved, all those songs do sound alike and at no point does anybody play a screaming guitar solo.

A more vigorous form of theater was shredding the air in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Lots of guitar screaming was going on here. Lots of Hedwig screaming, too. As for the subtleties of a shaded performance, there wasn’t much of that.

So does that mean Johnson’s production is a total artistic failure? Certainly the audience seemed to love him. And enthusiasm? He had tons of it. He flung himself into the role with complete abandon. In service to the story, his obligation was to present a manic personality severely disappointed by life’s cruel hand. Capturing the intensity of a young man pushing on the envelope of suicide was much more important than playing guitar with the facility of . . . say. . . Eric Clapton.

Maybe what we are dealing with here is situational aesthetics. Just like situational ethics, where achieving a specific intent is more important than respecting the letter of the law, situational aesthetics would let the emotional connection determine the aesthetic standard to be applied.

Crap would be acceptable if it meant the artist could use that medium to shake up the audience.

So, does that mean crap is good? “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” did receive excellent reviews. So did “Tell Me On A Sunday.”

What it means is there is good crap and bad crap. And may the good Lord grant me the wisdom to know the difference.


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