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On Stage: Meta-Theatre

Just about everyone in the post-modern world is familiar with the term “meta.” It is a Greek word, meaning “after” or “beyond.” With regard to the stage, meta-theatre describes theatre that is self-referential—theatre that refers to and comments upon itself. This includes plays and musicals that are not simply about plays and musicals, but go beyond that to also acknowledge the presence of the audience, the actors as actors, the artifice inherent in stage productions, and the literal experience of theatre itself.                             

While the finer definitions of meta-theatre—or meta-drama—may vary, it has been around a long time. The play-within-a-play, The Murder of Gonzago, which happens in Act III of Shakespeare's Hamlet, is probably the best known example. Other plays and musicals that use the technique include Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which premiered in 1966; the Fred Ebb, John Kander and Bob Fosse 1975 musical Chicago; the 1982 play by English playwright Michael Frayn, Noises Off; and one-act musical called [title-of-show], by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, which made its stage debut in 2004 at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. [title of show] traces the progress of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, as they attempt to put together a one-act musical for competition in the New York Musical Theatre Festival. They have only three weeks to do get the show done, and in the course of events, they consult two actress friends for help and inspiration.

Wichita Community Theatre is putting this comedic meta-musical onstage August 10th to August 14th.

Sanda Moore Coleman received an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University in 1991. Since then, she has been the arts and community editor for The Martha's Vineyard Times, a teaching fellow at Harvard University, and an assistant editor at Image. In 2011, she received the Maureen Egan Writers Exchange prize for fiction from Poets & Writers magazine. She has spent more than 30 years performing, reviewing, and writing for theatre.