Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stealing Thunder

It's Thor's Day in the blog, but I hear no thunder; there's just a gentle drizzle. Looks like it will last all day, and we could use it!

I've been wondering how to write about an odd thing that happened last night, when I attended a new play by a young playwright (still in college), but referencing "stealing one's thunder" is exactly how.

The wonderful definition at The Phrase Finder tells the little theatre story that is the origin of this phrase. The playwright John Dennis invented a thunder sound effect for the short run of his play Appius and Virginia. The play failed, but the thunder was a great success, used soon after for a production of Macbeth.

In response, Dennis may have said, "Damn them! They will not let my play run, but they steal my thunder."

Or he might have said, "That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder, but not my play!"

At any rate, this incident is the source of "stealing one's thunder," the act of using someone's else ideas or accomplishment to one's own advantage. And I witnessed an astonishing example of that last night.

The play was well done, showing us "old racism" and "new racism" in powerful and charming performances by black and white actors, including a boy in second grade! Wow! A panel discussion followed that brought the audience together in just the ways desired by director Jamelle Robinson in her program note:

The purpose of Soda is to bring up some social issues that are not openly discussed on a day to day basis. It is the goal of Kamaya Thompson (playwright)...to bring these issues out into the open so that they can be discussed and a change can come forth from our generation.

But then an audience member, who had spoken earnestly during the discussion, got the last word/s...and during these last words walked up to the stage area, facing the audience, her back to the actors, playwright, director, and discussion moderator, and her "comments" revealed themselves to rhyme a bit, developing into a full-out spoken word performance.

We all survived. There was graciousness and goodwill afterwards, people seeking each other out in joy and praise and to continue the discussion. But during the mingling, the spoken word artist handed out photocopied flyers of herself, with 3 of her poems, and, I discovered this morning, full contact information and lots and lots of copyright protection notices, some in boldface.

I shake my head, if not my hammer, in disbelief. And I don't think she knows or cares that she stole a young woman's thunder.

The painting above, by William Hogarth, is David Garrick as Richard III. It's from a production at the Drury Lane Theatre, where Garrick was theatre manager as well as actor, where Dennis's play had its short run, though it would have been pulled by the previous management, as Garrick wasn't there yet! Here, as Richard, he's experiencing some fear and regret. And here, in another painting by Hogarth, is a happier-looking Garrick with his wife!

4 comments:

Maureen said...

Wow! What some won't do for attention! I could never imagine doing something like that. How gracious of the audience not to have booed her off her platform. And how sad that apparently did not realize the harm she did herself.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Wow, Wow, Wow. I am constantly stunned by the audacity and self-centered nature of some folks. The play sound wonderful!

And no kidding, my WV is 'hautest.'

Collagemama said...

Zeus and some lightning bolts shoulda been there. Tacky, tacky, tacky. Thanks for the thunder theft info. I had always assumed it was from a myth.

Julie Kistler said...

Thanks for the fun piece of theater history. Good stuff!

As for the literal thunder stealer... Come on, Karma!