Creativity is the basis of all things. You can’t get anything new without creating something. Sometimes you can start out with sometime and add to it and get something else. And that can work well. But you can only re-do something so many times before it just gets old.
I have a degree in education. I don’t teach, and I won’t go into all the reasons why I don’t teach anymore, but I will say that one of the things that bothered me the most when I was teaching was the lack of creativity and free thinking in schools. I taught second grade and even by that young age, children had been trained that there was a right answer and a wrong answer. Everything is yes or no; black or white.
I could, and pretty much do, blame it on standardized testing, where every answer is a bubble on a sheet and there is only one of those bubbles that is right. But even with standardized testing, there is a whole school year of teachable time that you can work with a child on being creative. Open ended questions, journal writing, group discussions. These are all things that encourage creativity.
Yet, when I tried to ask a child an open ended question, or asked them what they thought about something, I’d often get only a blank stare. That bothered me. Greatly. I tried to do journal writing several times a week. I tried to talk with children in a way that let them know that there isn’t always a right or a wrong answer. But it’s hard when they have been so brain-washed already.
Outside of school children are surrounded by television and video games. They aren’t encouraged to play outside anymore. They aren’t encouraged to play “pretend” and to make up stories about their dolls or their action figures. Every toy makes a noise or has it’s story already.
Where does that leave us? In my opinion it leaves it in a world severely lacking in originality and creativity. And it damages the arts in so many ways. With young people growing up into adults that don’t know how to be creative theatre, movies, and even books suffer unnecessarily.
Originality on Broadway is getting more and more rare. Sure, there are some great shows out there. But in the past several seasons it seems that nearly everything is a revival (which isn’t a bad thing per se) or something based on a movie, or it’s a juke-box musical. This past year I went to see 3 shows on Broadway and 1 off-Broadway. Out of them, two were revivals (Promises, Promises and A Little Night Music), one was a juke-box musical (American Idiot, which I loved), and only one was a little bit original (Avenue Q).
I have nothing against a good revival. I don’t have much against a musical based on a movie (heck, I saw Legally Blonde on tour and loved it). But when all the things that are coming to Broadway are shows like Elf: The Musical, and Pee-Wee Herman, and the seemingly doomed Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark….well it starts to get boring. I mean, The Addams Family? Really?
The last shows I saw on Broadway that seemed to be truly original were Avenue Q and the wonderful Next to Normal. Next to Normal has even had a decent run. I saw it two years ago this coming May. With the original cast still intact, that show touched me in ways that not many shows do.
And yet shows like Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (semi-original in theme) didn’t even last long enough for me to get to NYC to see it. My thought seems to be that original shows don’t get tickets sold because people are afraid to try something new. And because producers are afraid to let the show build a following (a.k.a. they could be losing money), they end up closing a show before it even has the chance to shine.
Lack of inspiring creativity has hurt the art itself by not providing theatre and other fine arts with fresh minds to create new and wonderful stories. But it’s also hurt the audiences. When you don’t have minds that are willing to TRY new things then you end up with lack of ticket sales to original productions.
So, how do we fix it? I’m not saying that we should stop standardized testing, but I am saying that we should encourage the arts in schools. That we need to support creativity and free thinking as part of a core curriculum. And that we need to take the time to reward children for stepping outside of the box. Otherwise we may be doomed to “based on the movie…”, “based on the music of….”, and revivals on Broadway.