Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Value of Theatre

Now that I've gone and written a diatribe yesterday about how I hate when plays preach at people, I find a bunch of fellow theatrically-minded bloggistas have picked today as the day to write odes to the theatre. Great, now I feel like an asshole.

So now I will now atone for my sins. Let me put my pontificating hat back on. Tuck the hair up under the hat and... okay, I'm ready.

The question posed to these other bloggers is: What is the value of theatre?

Any theatrically inclined person, from highschool students all the way up to your Tony award winning professionals, can probably point you to a moment where they fell in love with live theatre. It could be the first moment they were "in the moment" with another actor, or that first laugh, that first bit of applause, the first time they heard their own words recited out loud or the first time they ever saw their set design in full scale and on and on.

For those who have those experiences, they are life changing and unquestionably valuable. And in those rare moments, pompous as it's going to sound, I believe you are connected not only to the show and the audience, but to a tradition of storytelling that dates back to the foundations of civilization.

See? Pompous sounding, right? Told ya. But if you've ever had that experience I think you'll know what I'm talking about.

So is that enough to make other people want to shell out cash for tickets? No. I don't know about you, but I don't watch movies or television or go to concerts because I know that the performers love their jobs. That love might enhance my experience, but it does so indirectly and at the end of the day I watch because I want entertainment, regardless of how the performers get there.

So how does one convince someone who could just as easily sit at home and watch HBO that they should spend money (often more money than they would pay for a movie ticket) to come out and sit in a room, ranging anywhere from titanic to claustrophobic in size, with a bunch of strangers to watch something that, for all they know, may or may not be boring?

Not an easy task, right? As far as convenience and cost, I don't think theatre can compete with television and movies. I mean, how can you make things any simpler than "free," "anytime" and "in the living room/kitchen/bedroom/den?" You can't.

And like screened media, theatre tells a story. And like screened media, it engages the imagination. And it has the power to entertain, move and educate people, just like screened media.

But I think the one place where theatre competes is in the fact that it's live. The story is playing out right in front of your face. You don't control the volume. You can't change the channel. You can't stop the show to check the score of the Piston's game. The performers and the set are not just lights on a screen, as they are in television and film.

You can only sit and watch and react, along with everyone else in the audience. You can see spit spewing from an actor's mouth, watch sweat beading on the brow, hear the actors breath, all of this proof that you are watching something human. Hell sometimes, depending on the type of show you're at, they'll actually talk to you, or even ask you to talk back.

I think there's something about actually being present in the same room as the story amplifies that story's effect.

If it's a crummy quality story, it may well amplify the crumminess. And, just like with television and movies and so on, there are a lot of shows that will not fit your individual taste. But I'll bet anyone who goes to the theatre with any regularity can probably give you an example of at least one performance where they left and thought, "wow, that was something special." When it's a great story and it's done well and draws in the audience then that connection between audience and performance creates that "something special" which, in turn, is valuable.

6 comments:

pat said...

Yes Yes!

katie said...

for that "something special" i heartily recommend a certain friday night level 5 writing show

Joe Janes said...

Good job, Nat. Now, can you come out from backstage, take off your costume and explain what you meant?

Nat Topping said...

I have a dead horse at home that needs a beating - I'm not sure I'll have time to do both.

Geoff said...

I like going to the theater because at any point I can simply run up on stage and start fighting the actors. That type of potential chaos excites me.

Nat Topping said...

What a great idea for a show: cage-match theatre.