Week1 - On Theatre and Live Performance

September 10, 2018

A meditation on abstractions and implementations

Why live theatre? There are two question i ask myself everytime me or anyone else is trying to convey meaning through a medium: 1. What level of abstraction are we interested in? 2. What is the best medium to convey that meaning?

After the invention of “talkies” in cinema, what happened was that studios began practically filming standard theatre plays. When Alfred Hitchcock was asked about this, he described them as “photographs of people talking, which bears nothing to the art of the Cinema”. This is a curse of a new media: people would immediately try to imitate the proven works of the previous medium into the new one. Think of ebooks for example, which most of the time is just a normal book, only digitized and delivered through an LCD screen. Texts on a medium that is capable of so much more in delivery of information and meaning! Same thing happened with video games: after the 4th gen games became visually photorealistic, companies began making episodic “cinematic” games (order 1886, until dawn) that were aesthetically beautiful and even carried great stories, but had little difference from sitting down and watching a Netflix series. They even capitalize on this idea by using play/pause icons and using words like Season and Episode to describe each section. I can give examples in VR, but you get the idea.

So why would one use Theatre? what does this medium bring to the table that others dont? What meaning are we trying to transfer that only theatre would be able to do?

Peter Brooke tried to open this up in his book, but in the end it seemed to be more about the process than anything else. He implies throughout the last chapter that there isn’t much to say about Live theatre than you can’t say about cinema, other than its “Live” ness. I would even argue for less than he thinks the theatre offers: Yes, theatre is “live”, but the leap needed for suspension of disbelief is a way greater than the one needed in Cinema. As he pointed out in the “Deadly Theatre”, there are a lot of elements in theatre that cause more disconnect from the audience. Theatre seems more of a compromise than a solution, its most simple issue being a lack of uniformity of experience for its audience.

Brook invites us to consider what goes through making a play happen to find value in it, but that’s a weak argument. Is theatre some kind of an in-joke that only its patrons can appreciate? The rest of the reasons for appreciation can be easily told about Cinema: the acting, the decor, the light, the sounds. So i am still wondering, what is it exactly that theatre brings to the table? What kind of stories can best be told in Theatre form and nothing else?

These questions give more meaning and direction for when we’re “visiting a small planet”. Because in the creation of any world, the main question is “at what level of abstraction”? Creation is obviously more exclusion than inclusion, and there an infinite amount of elements one can obsess over. So if there’s an infinite amount of information to be included, which ones are the most practical? This is the question we all answer whenever we try to even fathom a story. The story could be as simple as “i went to the park today”. Well, was it day or night? what trees were there? what exact color was the grass? how many squirrels did you see?

Our minds are incapable of imagining everything about anything. We work from highest levels of abstraction and move our way down from there. From Symbolic to (hopefully) Objective. An Apple is an abstraction that is vague enough to contain all the apples, but accurate enough to be different from an orange. Yet they both occupy the same space in the “fruit” abstraction. Now try imagining an apple: all the details, colors, textures; down to every details that is humanly possible to conceive. It soon becomes obvious that holding that amount of information in ones imagination seem to be impossible. or better yet, impractical.

So the correct question might be this: At what level of abstraction? And why?

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