Wednesday, September 9, 2009

There's Something About Plutus

I spent the bulk of the summer in rehearsals for an outdoor production of Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy, Plutus, and it seems that wherever our cast rehearsed, a crowd was never too far away. Over the course of the summer months I came to the realization that there was, in fact, something about Plutus that drew and continues to draw people in. Maybe it was the lure of the instruments we played or the attention-grabbing fight scenes, but nearly every rehearsal we found ourselves in performance for a crowd of interested spectators.

For me, the most important "crowd" we drew was at an early evening rehearsal in Central Park. Jodie Pfau (who plays the role of Cario) and I were working on scenes with our director, Whitney Aronson, when we attracted the attention of two young girls, one white and one black. The girls appeared to be around seven or eight years old and as Jodie and I (one of us white and one of us black) rehearsed, the two girls sat watching--captivated. The similarity of our pairings was impossible not to notice--Jodie and I even joked that the two girls could have been the two of us 15 years prior. As we continued to rehearse, I couldn't help but think of myself as I looked into the wide eyes of one of our young spectators.

When I was a child, the idea of becoming an actor was very far away for me for a number of reasons: I lived in St. Louis, MO and not New York City; I was black; I was too young; I didn't know where to start; and I rarely saw anyone who looked like me actually on a stage--and never in a classical theatrical production. Who knows whether the young black girl who sat and watched our rehearsal that day wants to be actress; it really doesn't matter. What she and her friend saw during our rehearsal is exactly what I love best about Curious Frog Theatre Company. Curious Frog gives its collaborators freedom to break the rules and make new ones. Similarly, I expect and hope that watching us rehearse for those few minutes gave those little girls the courage to do the same in whatever it is that their young minds can imagine.

For me, doing a Curious Frog production pairs the joy and challenge of performing outdoor theater with the satisfaction that comes with introducing young people to something new and exciting that may not have been part of their world before. Many of the faces in our audiences have held the same wide-eyed wonder and excitement of that 8-year-old little girl, and after the shows we are thanked for introducing someone to outdoor theater, to Greek comedy, to the classics.

Every weekend my fellow actors and I push our voices, push our bodies, endure sweat, dirt, and inclement weather to bring the fantastical world of Plutus to life. In that world, anything is possible: an economy can crumble in a matter of days, the blind can see, slaves are superheroes and gods are guitarists. By depicting that fantasy world we have in turn pulled a new reality into focus for the young people in our audiences. In between the adapted words of Aristophanes is the message that the possibilities for those young children of color are limitless. And the privilege of delivering that message is worth all of the sweat, dirt, and thunderstorms in the world.

--Lauren Ashley Smith

Lauren Ashley Smith has performed in two Curious Frog productions: "Comedy of Errors" in 2007, and now "Plutus", which can be seen the next two Saturdays at 4pm. For more info, please go to

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