Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Best Theatre of the Year? Not Really, But Still Worth Your While.

New York Magazine is fueling the fire behind the Minnesota Wedding Video recently featured on The Today Show. David Kois calls it the "best theater he's seen all year." Sure, the video is heartwarming. It's always good to see people having fun on what should be one of the best days of their lives. But is it the "best theater of the year"? It's great, but it is no longer theatre.

On this blog, we have been discussing how theatre relies on the possibility of interactivity (see Rebecca Novick's post from June), and the debate we've been having about the behavioral mores of the theatre is a moot point when you can watch this video sitting at home in your underwear. Clay pointed out that movies and theatre are vastly different media. I think that's apparent here. What makes theatre theatre is that it's live. You don't watch the video recording of Cats and say that it was the best (or worst) theatre; you need to qualify it with "recording of theatre," or "filmed theatre," or even just plain "movie."

Yes, this may have been "theatre" for those who attended this Minnesota wedding. It was fun, tried for a spontaneous look, and got people excited. That's theatre at its best, of course. But it has now passed into a new medium. To the more than 16 million who have seen this video so far, this ain't theatre, it's film, it's documentary. Those 16 million people are watching it at a remove, on the same website that brings us Salad Fingers and Charlie the Unicorn. They are at a remove of time, space and distance, watching something that happened in the past, like a memory. That makes this cinema.

Furthermore, it is the fact that this happened at a real-life wedding -- not one created merely for your personal viewing enjoyment--that makes this so endearing on video. We are in the reality television age, where fiction doesn't cut it, and where joke videos on YouTube are the new topics of water cooler conversation. The difference for this video is that, among all the scripted phoniness of reality television and the insincerity of those joke videos, this refreshing, genuine, sincere bit of cinema. It is surprising and quirky--but on a stage it simply wouldn't be. I think that if we saw this type of a choreographed routine in a wedding on a stage, it would quickly become something cheesy that belongs in a Disney musical. On a proper stage, this would lose all its charm. With a script, a plot, and outside of a real church during a real ceremony, it becomes ridiculous.

So is this theatre? No, not anymore. Not to David Kois, who did not attend this wedding. This is cinema at its best--real, heartfelt, and entirely secondhand viewing.

And theatre is firsthand. It's right there next to you, making you wan to get up and join in. So the people who were at the Minnesota wedding where this took place should feel very lucky. They got the theatrical experience. All we 16 million got was a record of it. Still great, but definitely not the same. So go check it out, if not to restore your faith in the theatre then to restore your faith in vitality and humanity.

Do you think it's theatre? Or are you into semantics like me and think this is an altogether different experience? What makes theatre to you? Let us know in the comments section.

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At August 7, 2009 at 9:47 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, semantics are very important. I prefer discussing everything under the umbrella of performance. That wedding was a ritual and inherently participatory. On the other end of the spectrum is theatre, which has a clear separation between performers and audience. The video was a document of the ritual.

At August 8, 2009 at 2:42 AM , Blogger Carl Benson said...


Not exactly. Theater does not necessarily mean a "clear separation between performers and audience."

What about improv? That's theater, but requires the active participation of an audience. How about a play in which the audience votes on how the plot will proceed? That requires audience interaction. How about a play which calls a member of the audience on stage for a moment? Or a play like "Point Break: Live!" which auditions members of the audience and eventually, after the rest of the audience has had their say, picks for that night, one of the auditioners to play the theatrical version of the coveted lead role of Johnny Utah, so brilliantly portrayed on film by Keanu Reeves?

Ultimately, I agree with you, semantics are important. All I'm saying is be careful how you're defining your semantics.

At September 3, 2009 at 8:54 AM , Blogger An Honest Critic said...

I think that by getting into an argument about whether or not that wedding video was theatre is missing the point entirely. Spending even more time conflating the already hazardous dialogue between our culture and theatre regarding the definition of theatre is not going to clarify anything to a public who already thinks we're weird, obtuse, opaque, and irrelevant.

This writer called it the best theatre he'd seen all year. Why aren't we talking about what made this the best in his eyes? What is it that made what we might consider 'actual theatre' less interesting to him? Why aren't we trying to learn from this performance's popularity and trying to absorb that into our profession?

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