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Theatre is real

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This week, Drew Lane discusses the reasons why live theatre is a reality we don’t ever want to lose…

Theatre There was a very interesting article in The Age on the weekend that asked and explored the question as to why live theatre is still drawing crowds. It was interesting to “read between the lines” – the article was also implying that there was a conundrum as to why people are still going to the theatre.

It’s a fair question. Why bother with theatre, especially with the proliferation of 3D movies, instant downloads, home entertainment and gaming systems, and more?  If you can already get everything you want, almost instantly, what is the drawcard for dressing up, paying $40 plus a ticket and going to a venue to see a live show that you can’t record, can’t save, and can’t take away with you?

For me, it comes down to one simple word.

Reality.

Theatre is real in several key ways.

#1: Theatre is live.

When you see theatre, it’s happening right in front of your eyes.  You can almost smell the action as it comes off the stage.  There’s an electricity in the air that you can feel.  There’s no call of “cut”; there’s no editing in post.  Whatever happens in that moment is what happens, for better or worse. The actors are within arms reach, flesh and blood, just like you. Whether it’s a rock concert, a musical, or an intimate play, live theatrical presentation is live and real.  Yes, I know you could argue a case for ‘reality TV’, but let’s be honest – it’s not truly reality is it? It is scripted to move the action in a particular direction, it’s edited together in post, a soundtrack is added later. But with live theatre, it all comes down to what happens in the moment, in front of you, on the stage. If something goes wrong, it’s there for all to see and hear.  In a world that is so socially networked without actually touching anyone, live theatre brings people together and unites them in a way that nothing else can.

#2: Theatre is interactive.

The interactiveness of live theatre creates a synergy between the performer and the audience. Often, the reactions to what is happening on stage will spur the performer on, which in turns draws the audience in deeper. Laughter, tears, sighs, gasps, cheers, applause – it all is in real time, and the response that a performer can elicit from an audience, and in turn the audience from the performer is completely tangible. I recently saw Next To Normal at the Victorian Arts Centre, and the way that people attached themselves to the characters on stage was so much more intense that you would experience from TV or film. I believe that we watch theatre differently – we take more notice of every element. We are lazy when watching TV and film because we know we can rewind, reborrow, save, pause or stop the action. But with theatre, you have one shot at watching it. So we open our eyes and ears wider, and offer our emotional centre more opportunity to experience its interactiveness.

#3: Theatre reflects society

Yes, I know that film and television does this also, but there is a disconnection between the viewer and the screen that is not present when watching theatre. Immediately, the reflection that theatre presents is more explicit, unmitigated and thorough. It’s because of the previous two points above that when the audience is presented with a staged performance, they take more notice of the message it is presenting. I think that’s why people get more out of attending a conference than listening to or watching it third hand. The reflection is more immediate and experiential.

#4. Finally, theatre is an investment.

It’s that old concept: when you buy something yourself, you look after it better than something that was just given to you.  Why?  It’s because you’ve invested in it. There is an element of worth that is given to that purchase. And maybe that’s also why people are willing to spend a lot of money to go to the theatre. They are investing in an experience that they cannot get elsewhere.  When you hire a $6 DVD or downloadable film, you give it exactly $6 worth of attention. Likewise with a cinema movie – a little more money, a little more attention and personal investment. But with theatre, it’s more expensive, and because of that extra expend, you are willing to buy into the experience even more. The more you give of yourself, the more you receive from the experience. And if personal experience isn’t living, then I don’t know what is!

There’s been many a “prophet of doom” that champions the demise of live theatre and performance. And they have always been proved wrong. People need to feel the thrill of the theatre to make them feel alive. It is precisely because of theatre’s reality that we want to go. And no level of technology will be able to replace that.

Until next time,

Blog ya later!

Drew

Photo: courtesy of Michael 1952

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Drew has written 33 articles on AussieTheatre
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