Curtain Call: In the age of livestreaming we still need live theater
Have you streamed a theater production lately? Have you watched a live streamed production? Like many theatergoers, I’ve been checking out various streamed productions from area theaters. Some of the early ones were pretty rough around the edges, but in a very short time, these productions became more sophisticated and far more polished. I have to say that a recent live-streamed production was so good that I had to admit the experience was terrific. I was sitting in my favorite comfortable chair with a cup of tea by my side and watching actors perform live. How convenient is this? Then I thought, theaters are getting so good at this that patrons might continue to opt for this stay at home plan long after COVID-19 is gone. That thought stopped me in my tracks. “Why do we still need live theatre?” I mean think about the savings theaters would have if they didn’t need a building filled with seats and a stage. They could create anything in their home basements or anywhere. The money they could save on overhead would be amazing.
However, I immediately answered my own question: “We need live theater because there’s nothing else like it in the world.” This is where creativity reigns, where all the arts come together. It made me think of all the reasons why real theater complete with directors, stage crews, designers, actors and audiences must continue.
You may think well so do movies and television bring the arts together and they do. However, they also bring along a camera, which essentially petrifies the stories they tell. That camera is an inflexible eye. It tells without words what you need to see. It keeps you focused on what the camera reveals. You can’t look to see how other actors are reacting. That camera also influences the viewer and can add perspective as well as scenes and stage shots. In live theater, audiences see and hear what the playwright meant to say and do in the story being told. You can shift your sight to anywhere you want on that stage, playwrights write for the stage.
In some instances, a camera can do away with the need for dialogue in some scenes. The sights say it all. Not so in theater, the playwright’s exact words are respected and conveyed in the written script and some of the most intelligent and poetic people in the world are and have been playwrights.
Film and television are great. I love watching a good movie or taking in a fine television show. Both mediums are getting increasingly aligned with live theater. Actors have runs on Broadway and then head to the film and television industries. The thing is when I watch a movie or television show, the exact same thing that I watch today is exactly like what I watched ten years ago and can watch again ten years from now. It will never change. For better or worse, it has been preserved, mummified. Theater, on the other hand, is different in every performance. Actors may express their lines or expressions a little differently from one night to the next. They may forget a line or step on another actor’s line.
Because theater is alive, you never know what can happen. That’s what makes it so exciting. I remember a night when a cast in a play stepped forward to take a curtain call and stepped back just in time to miss a massive and heavy curtain falling from the ceiling to the stage floor. It was a very close call for the actors and the audience gasped out loud in response to the accident.
During another performance the audience became fixated on an actress who stepped into the hem of her long dress tearing it open. She never fell or tripped, but the audience was absolutely focused on her every time she took a step. Happily it was fixed during intermission and you could actually sense that the audience was relieved.
While it is apparent that movies and television have become kissing cousins to theater and may soon welcome live-streamed productions, they are not substitutes for live theater. It’s common to see plays made into movies and vice-versa these days and we even saw “Hamilton” on television. However, they can never replace the communication and emotional bonds made between a live audience and the actors on stage. They depend on each other and connect with each other in real time. Streamed actors, no matter how good, don’t hear the thunderous applause, see the standing ovations, nor do they hear the laughter or crying of their audiences. Live theater is alive and has been for centuries and hopefully no technology will stop it from moving into future centuries as well.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. She can be reached at email@example.com.