Recently, a friend of mine who is a theatre student in the UK — we’ll refer to her as K — wrote in her personal blog about a student show she had to attend and comment on.
I may appear a bit jaded, but honestly, this is my area of study–audience impact. I want my audience to want to be there to see my piece. I want them to take something away from it that isn’t just boredom or a new appreciation for the glowing hands on their watches. I want the show to not need big-name actors in order to draw a crowd and I want theatre to go back to its roots–its real roots. Entertainment. Fun. Contrary to Dryden’s views, I do not believe theatre’s first obligation is to educate. No one who makes theatre is qualified to teach, and any attempt to do so by a theatre practitioner is a misguided effort at best, a dangerous and unethical display at worst. Most theatre types don’t know if what they’re presenting is ethnically or historically accurate, and really don’t care either way. Theatre’s first obligation is to entertain, but if someone is likely to learn something from it (Because it’s interesting to watch) what you present needs to be right.
And I agree with her, that boring, self-indulgent theatre that assumes it has a right to teach its audience any sort of morality (discussion starting is one thing, actively preaching is something else, and worse) is part of the reason, I think, a lot of people have been turned off to theatre. They want to be entertained, even if that entertainment comes from watching a family implode (a lot of modern theatre) or watch a serial killer take someone apart one slice of skin at a time (a lot of modern cinema). This whole notion of a theatre that teaches is a misrepresentation of ancient Greek theatre, anyway — yes, Greek theatre was chock-full of the morals of the time, as any current entertainment will be. But it wasn’t there just to teach morality to its audience, because its audience was already in tune with the morals of the culture they were raised in. The closest Greek theatre really got to teaching anyone anything was simple reinforcing of cultural norms, which is why the government supported it (have you ever seen government-run theatre that was anarchistic or against the current system? No, it all reinforces what your leaders want you to think and feel so you will continue to vote for them). I digress a bit. My point is that this teaching theatre condescends to its audience both artistically and emotionally, and I don’t blame anyone for being turned off by this.
“Alecto: Issue #1” at Annex was the opposite of pretentious, moralistic theatre. Although there was a little morality involved — those who produce entertainment for the sake of entertainment will do anything to keep their high status — for the most part, the show was an entertaining, probably “Watchman”-inspired farce about superheroes. While a lot of the plot was obvious, and I didn’t entirely understand why a script writer would want to have this show done on stage rather than on film (it seems like film special effects would have served it better, although I was entertained by watching force fields and fight scenes performed in person), I will say that the script was very well written, and the characters just interesting enough that I found myself wondering, the whole bus trip home, when Issue #2 would be out.
I don’t think this show solves the entire problem of live theatre, as I think this script might be better as a web series or movie. But it was fully entertaining. The audience loved it. The house was packed. It does go with K’s idea that boring, preachy theatre is a huge turn-off and we should all stop searching for validation of our pretentiousness. Instead, we should be focusing on real entertainment. I think live, in person entertainment is a great foil to all this home entertainment on TV and online. Get out of the house and go see something weird, for a completely different experience. Now, that doesn’t mean we need to get overly intellectual and moralistic about what we put out there — it just means we need to figure out why certain stories deserve to be told in front of a live audience, and how we can do them the most justice.