The Benefits of Studying Theater by Paul Stancato

February 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Image: Drama Masks Mosaic on floor of J.W. Sexton High School

Attribution: Reid Sprite


As a longtime director of a variety of theater productions, including Disney’s The Lion King, I feel strongly about the value of drama education in school. Studying public performance can provide many benefits, a few of which appear below.

1.  Creativity. Learning how to step into the shoes of a character takes thoughtfulness and the use of innovative techniques. Becoming creative can be helpful in other areas of life as well.
2.  Public Speaking. Perhaps a student feels inhibited about giving a talk in front of a crowd. After performing in front of an audience several times, this becomes less of a concern.
3.  Dedication. Participating in a play, regardless of whether one acts or helps out behind the scenes, takes a great deal of time and effort. Seeing a production come to fruition shows the benefits of hard work.
4.  Commitment. Actors must commit to learning their lines. Students who agree to participate in a theater production must come through or else they risk letting down their fellow thespians.
5.  Self-confidence. The applause that an audience gives at the end of a performance boosts most people’s self-image. Participating in a play also provides a sense of accomplishment from putting the production together and performing in public.
6.  Career exposure. Young people who are trying to figure out which profession to pursue may decide they enjoy the performing arts. Learning lines, building sets, playing music, and coordinating a team teach various skills for the professional theater business.

Paul Stancato on Theater Genres

February 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Paul Stancato

Academics group plays primarily into three categories: drama, musical, and comedy. While many theater productions blur the lines between these different genres, the three types also represent the progression of theater over the past few millennia. Drama, the oldest form of theater, relies heavily on speech to invoke certain feelings and reactions in the audience. The word drama, an ancient Greek concept, derives from a verb meaning “to do,” which represents the art form’s responsibility to act on the audience and effect a reaction. The majority of ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Latin plays dealt with religion or, later on, the social mores of the time, and fell under the category of drama. Even in the modern West, drama likely remains the most popular form of theater. In the English world, William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe carried on the tradition of moving drama, becoming two of the most popular playwrights of all time.

Musical theater combines spoken dialogue with music, dance, and song and emerged from vaudeville and music halls of the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, audiences expect a large degree of theatricality and spectacle when they see a musical. Having one’s musical performed on Broadway has become a mark of fame among modern playwrights. In truth, music and theater enjoyed an intimate relationship dating back to the ancient Greeks. While modern productions feature spoken lines, ancient productions were sung, and a large chorus in the background would dance as the main actors told the story. Generally, the poetic lines were set to music from a variety of instruments, such as the cithara, similar to a lyre.

Modern comedies date back to ancient Greek and Roman plays. Often, the tragedy of drama was offset by a subsequent comedy, which lightened the mood before the audience members returned to their homes. While comedies largely fell from popularity during the medieval period, they returned to mainstream entertainment in the 19th century. Comedies rely on humor to tell a story, even if the plot references bleak or upsetting subject matter. Often, playwrights breach the most taboo subjects with comedies, which has resulted in the rise of black comedies.

Paul Stancato Discusses Noël Coward

February 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Noël Coward Photo

Posted by George Grantham Bain Collection

The English playwright Noël Coward began acting at the age of seven and quickly developed a reputation for excellence. His first solo-written play was produced when he was 18, and he starred in his own play, a comedy titled I’ll Leave It to You, at the age of 20. The latter ran for a month and met with mixed, though generally positive, reviews. Four years later, in 1924, Coward finished The Vortex, his first commercially successful play, which garnered overwhelmingly enthusiastic reviews from critics. The shocking play bluntly depicted the sexual escapades and drug use rampant in the upper classes at the time, surprising and amusing audiences in the United States and the United Kingdom. The following year, Coward solidified his place among the great playwrights of the time with Fallen Angels and Hay Fever. Today, many recognize Hay Fever as a classic and one of Coward’s most enduring plays.

Coward’s success continued until World War II, at which point he quit writing to take on official government duties. After the war, he began to author new plays, but none of them achieved the popularity of his prewar hits. Not discouraged, Coward continued to produce play after play until, in the 1950s, he became a star again for several hit films, including Around the World in 80 Days, Our Man in Havana, and later, The Italian Job. Coward’s newfound popularity endured until his death in 1973. In 1969, Coward was knighted in recognition of his contributions to popular culture. Today, theaters around the world continue to produce many of his works, such as Private Lives, Present Laughter, and Design for Living.

Paul Stancato on Dan Brown

February 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dan Brown Photo

Posted by Photographer Philip Scalia

Born in New Hampshire and raised on the Phillips Exeter Academy campus, Dan Brown immersed himself in the world of puzzles and ciphers from a young age. He eventually attended the academy and then gained admission to Amherst College, where he sang in the Amherst Glee Club. Hoping to forge a music career after graduation, Brown made a children’s album, and later, an album for adults, which he published through his own record company. When both albums met with moderate success, he moved to Hollywood and began writing more songs, producing several albums. To supplement his income, he taught at the Beverly Hills Preparatory School. Eventually, Brown returned to New Hampshire and served as an English instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy.

While vacationing in Tahiti one year, Brown happened to read The Doomsday Conspiracy, by Sidney Sheldon, which encouraged him to begin a new career as a writer. He immediately began work on his novel Digital Fortress and quit his job some years later to focus on writing. Digital Fortress hit shelves in 1998, followed soon thereafter by Deception Point and Angels & Demons, which introduced Brown’s famous character, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. Brown achieved commercial success with his fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code, in which Langdon attempts to solve the murder of the Louvre’s curator. By the man’s body, Langdon discovers a strange cipher and begins to solve the puzzle with clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci. Ultimately, Langdon stumbles upon the Priory of Sion, a secret society he believes is connected to the murder.

Most recently, Brown published The Lost Symbol, which recounts Langdon’s struggle to rescue the head of the Smithsonian Institution from the hands of a kidnapper demanding the recovery of lost books. The Lost Symbol is the fastest-selling novel in history and remained a New York Times number-one bestseller for six weeks.

Einstein’s Dreams

January 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Paul Stancato

One of my favorite books of all time is Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman. In 2001, I directed and choreographed the stage version for the 2001 New York Fringe Festival. Set in Berne, Switzerland in 1905 while Einstein develops the theory of relativity, the novel’s story focuses what he experiences when he sleeps: 30 different dreams about worlds where time behaves differently. The result is a series of vignettes that explore the relationship between human beings and time. In the dreams, Einstein sees multiple universes, including worlds where time stands still, flows in a circle, lacks significance because there is no memory, flows backwards, manifests as a physical sense, such as touch or hearing, and many other scenarios.

Published in 1992, Einstein’s Dreams stands as a worldwide bestseller that has been published in 30 different languages. While the story flows from Einstein’s dreams, time serves as the main character, and its many faces cause readers to question the nature of the universe. . A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a physicist, Lightman presents the stories expertly. While some of the scenarios stem from Lightman’s knowledge of theoretical physics, others come entirely from his imagination. In addition to exploring the physics of time, Lightman also examines how human beings live. In the end, the novel explores not just science and literature, but also philosophy and human nature.

Walt Whitman

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

by Paul Stancato

An avid reader, Paul Stancato enjoys the works of Walt Whitman. American poet Walt Whitman remains among the most influential in the history of the United States. Walt Whitman was also active as a teacher, essayist, and journalist during his life.

Born in 1819, Walt Whitman was the second of nine children, four of whom suffered from various physical disabilities. Sadly, it is unlikely that Walt Whitman’s father, a stern man, or his mother ever read his poetry. However, Walt Whitman maintained a deep, lifelong affection for his mother who, though functionally illiterate, embraced the young boy with unconditional support and affection. Walt Whitman grew up in Long Island, New York. Walt Whitman developed an early love for words. Though forced to leave public school at the age of 11 to help support his family, Walt Whitman nonetheless remained a voracious reader. Self-taught, Whitman independently devoured a host of classic and modern literary works and became thoroughly acquainted with the Bible. Walt Whitman engaged the printer’s trade at age 12 before moving on, at age 17, to teach. Whitman subsequently developed and implemented an innovative, experimental style of instruction.

In 1855, he transitioned to the field of journalism and operated as an editor for Brooklyn and Manhattan newspapers. Walt Whitman then moved to New Orleans in 1848 and his stint in the historic town deeply informed his work throughout the remained of his life. It was here that Whitman first witnessed and developed his profound abhorrence for the practice of human slavery. Walt Whitman subsequently returned to New York City and founded a newspaper not long after.

Walt Whitman developed the body of his personal literary style beginning around 1848. Consisting of free and experimental verse, Whitman’s work infused American transcendentalism with modern literary elements and his poetry came under attack for its unabashed sexual references. In addition, Whitman’s lifelong passion for music was a core influence in terms of both rhythm as well as word choice. Walt Whitman’s most notable masterpiece, the epic work, Leaves Of Grass, required three decades to complete and Whitman continued to work on it in intervals for the rest of his life. Walt Whitman passed away in the spring of 1892 and remains an unsurpassed American literary figure today.

About Paul Stancato!

September 23, 2010 § 1 Comment

An artist of many trades, Paul Stancato’s resume boasts a rare combination of directing, choreographing, performing, and teaching. Holding a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre, Paul Stancato is also a drummer, having performed in the Blue Man Group, De La Guarda, and Chicago rock band, Voodoo Buss.

In 1996, Paul Stancato co-founded the theatre company, Aporia Players, of which he served as the Artistic Director until 2003, bringing the company critical success. Paul Stancato has had the opportunity to collaborate and work with Julie Taymor, John Rando, and Rob Ashford, masters of directing and choreographing. Paul Stancato’s background includes directing and choreographing credits on the following productions: Crazy For You, Godspell, Guys and Dolls, Zombies from Beyond, and the world premier of Rockshow and Heart Rising. Moreover, Paul Stancato directed Einstein’s Dream, for which he was awarded the New York Fringe Festival’s Best Direction for its New York Premier. In 2007, Paul Stancato directed the First National Tour of The Wedding Singer and became one of the few choreographers for DanceBreak, a leading foundation dedicated to nurturing the finest Broadway choreographers.

Paul Stancato has taught acting and directing master classes at various American educational institutions, including SUNY Purchase NY, Vanderbilt University, Michigan State University, and his alma mater, the University of Florida. At present, Paul Stancato is gearing up to work on several new creative projects after dedicating four years to the First National Tour of Disney’s The Lion King, which garnered the Helen Hayes Award for Best Musical of 2008.