why theater?

When you write a play, what are you adding to the sum total of human experience?

Often, these days, when I read or see a play or movie or TV series (I got hooked on The Closer* once it came to free TV), I think, why this medium?  A sort of macro ma nishtanah** test for writing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about media, these days, and why all of the performance ones exist.  I see plays and read plays and wonder, what is this doing in a theater?  What is it doing FOR theater?  So many of them are structured like TV shows, mildly episodic, kitchen-sinkish, making no use of theater magic either onstage or in the transaction with their audience.  Or they’re entirely spectacle, wowing us like fireworks, sometimes even with fireworks but without a good, strong story on which to hang the deadly pyrotechnics.

If playwrights are merely going to try to do the same things as movies or TV, live theater is doomed.  That is, unless there’s a worldwide change either in the use of technology or the availability of electrical power.  Because these days, we want it when we want it, and waiting to go to a scheduled performance will become a thing of the past.

Maybe we can televise theater, record it for future viewing?  Nah.  Actors’ Equity Association won’t ever let that happen and anyway, then it’s merely “live” television.  Not theater.  Not the sense of wonder, the communal audience mind making synaptic leaps together, the exchange of breath and pheromones and electromagnetic auras.

Which is why I’m more and more enamored of magic realism, and of the kinds of storytelling that DEMAND the willing suspension of disbelief, rather than its opposite (which is not disbelief itself, it’s putting things so mundane on the stage that nobody would bother not to believe them).

Here’s my gauntlet, folks.  Magic realism isn’t just for TYA, it’s likely the thing that will save live theater in the digital age.

©2012 all rights reserved

*if you have access to Strike Three, please let me know, I very much want to read that teleplay

**Just searched my hard drive, I’m stunned that I haven’t written about “the ma nishtanah moment” before, I use it as actor, writer, director.  Another post will come of that.


2 thoughts on “why theater?

  1. By Odin’s beard I hope there is still a hyphen between tele-play but alas I think what once was a sacred space between two distinct mediums of communication is compressed even further, so unless playwrights push back to keep the tele out of the play, then the doom you speak of, shall rise and rise until there aren’t any free imaginations left, not sullied, saturated, and penetrated by square pixels, scan lines, and electromagnetic mediocrity.
    (Challenge Accepted Deb)

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