Friday, December 7, 2012

The End of Theatre

A combination of illness and end-of-semester crunch means that I do not have a post for the second half of this week.  Instead, I would very much like to pose the following question to you, dear readers.  I'd love to hear what you have to say down in the comment section.

What is the end of theatre?  Have we reached it?  If we have, why next?  If not, why not?


  1. Part one:

    To put it simply--no. We have not reached the end. The "Theatre is Dead" argument is most commonly uttered by grad students, baffled that a mere fourteen people came to their three week run of Troilus and Cressida. They point to the fluff on the Great White Way as an example. They balk at the popularity of adaptations: "The Lion King", "Wicked" and "Rent", to name a few. "Where is the real theatre?" they ask. Trouble is, Broadway has by and large always been that way. So-called classics like "Guys and Dolls", "White Christmas" and "Singing In The Rain" are fluff pieces.
    Overzealous men and women of the theater have it in their heads that everyone and their mom knew Eugene O'Neill by heart. That dog-eared copies of "Waiting For Godot" littered the landscapes of their forefathers. Sadly, this is not true. It's never been true. Abraham Lincoln didn't die listening to Macbeth wax philosophical about the desire for power and its tragic consequences. He died watching "Our American Cousin"--a silly farce that would have been forgotten by now if not for the fact that our 16th President was murdered during a production of it.

  2. Part two:

    A fashion-industry friend once told me that the bizarre works that have become the bellwether for runway fashion were never meant for people to actually wear. That a fashion designer watched a woman walk by in a hot pink ninja gi and thought "People should wear this" is absurd. Instead, other designers would observe the outfit like a piece of art, and steal a few ideas from it. A neckline, or that kinky little headband. The outfit is taken apart piecemeal, and presented to the public in forms that they can use more practically. I think that that's not a bad way to look at the over-the-top expenditure of Broadway. Can the average community or regional theater put on a production of "Spider Man: Take Back The Night"--Christ Jesus, no. Nor should they. Footnote: I'm dead serious--if you're reading this and looking for ideas for your theater's upcoming season, DO NOT produce "Spiderman: Take Back The Night". I cannot stress this enough.
    So, a regional theater can't put on a big-budget show with high wires and massive, disembodied mechanical heads. But maybe they'll notice something about the lighting, sound, script, etc, that will lead them to make something of their own that is just as great. Something that doesn't require that asshole Bono's meddling.
    Has film replaced theatre? Some say so. Some say that theatre departments in colleges and universities are merely low-budget film prep schools. But there are many things that theatre can do that film can't. Theatre effects on a visceral level. It is live. It is potentially dangerous. And it has a level of "theatricality" which can't be reproduced through film. My favorite example of this comes from the re-engineering of The Producers, Mel Brooks' timeless film-turned musical-turned film again. I was fortunate enough to see it within the first few months of its run, with the original cast. It was the kind of kick-you-in-the-stomach funny that we've grown to expect from Mel Brooks. It was over-the-top and offensive and colorful and bright. This was Jewish "Gangnam Style" before anyone knew such a thing existed. And then the film version of it came to movie theaters. I saw it, and hated it. The reason, ironically, was that it was identical to the stage musical. And that level of bombast and silliness just didn't translate to the screen. For some intangible reason, theatricality stays in the theatre.

  3. Part three (grand finale, presto agitado):

    To conclude: Theatre isn't over. Frankly, if I'd wanted to, all I could have said was this: As long as people have imaginations, a desire to perform, and an empty space in their garage, theatre will always exist. But then I would have missed the chance to be a pretentious theatre-queer. And I wouldn't have deprived one of my oldest friends of seeing that.
    --Phil Keeling, comedian/writer/actor

  4. I mean it all started with a dude doing a goat song, and no matter what new pretty baubles technology comes up with, nothing will ever take the place of live performance.