The Digital Debate

Modern “Entertainment” Killing the Theater

Entertainment as defined by dictionary.com is, “something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, especially a performance of some kind.” It can be commonly agreed upon that in the new millennium, there has been a significant increase in the diversion and amusement aspect as opposed to the genuine enjoyment that entertainment provided in the past. Even going back to medieval times, jesters performed for the kings and thanes as their entertainment as opposed to the modern CEO of a company playing Angry Birds during a slow day at work. With the demand of entertainment throughout the day, the ease that hand-held technology gives the public is decreasing live performances’ popularity. However, more accessible does not mean better entertainment!

Phones can do pretty much anything nowadays with the incorporation of 3G and Wi-Fi. From playing games to surfing the internet and even watching full length movies or even video calling, phones and tablets have created a new world of entertainment with endless possibilities. The generations of today feel they need to be occupied every second that they are awake which has not only deteriorated the importance but also the quality of interpersonal interaction, creating technological experts but social hermits. According to Diane Paulus, “They [young people] don’t want to go to the theater anymore—why? They don’t have attention spans. They’d rather be in control, with their personal handheld devices. There are too many entertainment choices. We’re a depraved culture.” Who wants to pay a decent amount of money to go to the theater for three hours when they can purchase a $0.99 app or movie on their phone and be able to play it for as long as they want?

Portable movies and the movie business in general are the main competitors for the acting theater. The main concept is the same but the cinema is able to do things with technology such as CGI and animation that only computers have the ability to do on the screen and not onstage. While the acting theater can take audience members into a new world, the cinema has unlimited possibilities and a larger audience to appeal to. Tom McGrath, a colleague of Lambert stated in his article, “…you can open a movie on 1,000 screens or 5,000 screens, but a Broadway show is limited by the capacity of the theater”—and even though runs can be open-ended, “the buildings aren’t growing any new seats.” Theaters are attempting to produce similar results by producing touring shows but the man power required and the amount of performances to equal those of the movies are not humanly possible. Also there is not enough energy in actors to tour for too long and perform for very long amounts of time. Movie actors perform once and the movie can be replayed as many times as they want but theater performances are each unique and are not exactly replicated. Not only are the performances exhausting but the travelling does a toll on the actors that is even more debilitating. Because movies have the ability to use and exploit the technology they definitely have an advantage in attracting the newer generations and have used this advantage well since the beginning. But with the surge of making movies portable, it has given the cinema that extra boost they needed to really beat out the acting theater.

Theaters are becoming aware of what they need to evolve into in order to attract the future generations of theater-goers: a theater that as the games and technology do, engages the audience members. As Lambert describes, “The theater of the future will be one that actively engages its audiences and probably breaks not only the “fourth wall” (the imaginary “window” of the proscenium) but the other three as well.” I have both been in and been an audience member in shows that do incorporate the audience and it greatly increases the quality of attention that the audience pays to the show. Bringing the audience into the show has its benefits but can also for some make them feel uncomfortable and make the play “too real” and hard to be a part of. For example in this year’s season at West Virginia University in the play The Shape of Things, during Evelyn’s monologue where she reveals her entire relationship with Adam is a part of her Master Thesis, someone in the audience sneezed and Evelyn responded with “Bless you.” This show was by no means meant to be an interactive show but by acknowledging the audience to that degree, the audience became the audience in her presentation instead of the audience for the theatrical production. For some this was an excellent addition to the show because along with the intimacy of the ¾ thrust stage, the relationship between the audience and the character was taken to a new level.

This will be a rough transition for the theater world in the coming years because those members who are used to the completely closed off shows where the fourth wall is merely a looking glass and rarely broken will not take to the newly engaging theater as well as the newer generations. However, as the generations are exposed to this new kind of theater like the 2010 production of Spiderman: Turn off the Dark, there will be a quick rebound in attendance. Introducing new technology that allows shows to break these boundaries and take the imagination to new levels will surely create this new brand of theater productions that the newer generations crave. This new genre of theater being created with the changing times just goes to show that the theater is just as adaptable as the rest of entertainment and has no plans of being closed down. The theater of the future will not be a singular type as it has never been in any form of entertainment. There will be shows that push the boundaries of the usage of technology but there will also be the classical shows that stay true to the original production style and use the technology for the spectacle rather than the main attraction.

Tina Packer added in Lambert’s article, “It’s only through people gathering together—which is what theaters do—that you can actually feel the humanity. It’s a palpable, visceral feeling—a collective feeling,” she says. “You can’t feel it on Facebook, you can’t feel it on television, and you don’t get the truth in any of these places, either.” Therefore it can be concluded that the theater is an enigma that has a special effect on people because of just how real it is, which will always separate it from the other entertainment forms. Art is expressed differently throughout the years; the theater will be no different.

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This entry was posted on November 15, 2012 by .
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