Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Theatres Are Dead, Long Live Theatre

Our theatres are terribly old school. Most of them date from the century before last- and even those of more recent vintage are set up so that one bunch of people sits passively in serried ranks while another bunch of people performs culturally improving actions. It's rather like church: there's the priesthood and there's the laity- and the laity has little input in what the priesthood is doing- apart from sending out encouraging (or possibly discouraging) vibrations. It's all very proper, formal, hidebound. And if one of the laity forgets themselves to the extent of whipping out a camera phone it's not unknown for one of the priests to break the fourth wall and denounce them for their lack of respect.

Oh Benedict, you're an actor, for pity's sake- heir to Vincent Crummles and his ilk; when exactly did you cease to be a rogue and vagabond?

I guess the rot set in when we started handing out knighthoods and damehoods to these people. Henry Irving, you owed it to your profession to say, "No"!

The coronavirus may kill of a lot of our theatres. Dame Judy was on TV last night saying how awful this would be. Well, yes and no. Jobs will be lost and that's terrible- but theatres are one thing and theatre is another. Theatre- which is a branch of story-telling- is a perennial human need- and will survive the demise of the pompous and expensive buildings we currently think we need. Shakespeare used to put on his shows in inn yards- and the liveliest theatre building I know is his rebuilt Globe- which is simply an inn yard upgraded.

All you need to do theatre is a space of some sort and a bunch of enthusiastic show-offs. You don't even need a text- though it probably helps. You certainly don't need lots of fancy lighting and stage machinery. All that impressive technology just widens the gulf between players and played-to. Keep the stage as bare as you can and get the audience to use their imaginations. The imagined tree will always be more tree-like than a pasteboard one- and the more flats you wheel on the less the scene is going to look like a wood near Athens. As Mickey Rooney said to Judy Garland, looking round the crummy old barn in which they've been rehearsing- "Let's do the show right here!"

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