Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is this theatre? Who gets to decide?

I'm in the midst right now of writing the third article in my series on community and theatre that's appearing in Theatre Bay Area magazine, following on the first two about physical spaces and neighborhoods (August) and diversity and demographics (September). This third piece is all about technology, and the new form of community that the web and other technologies has created in the world--a community that is increasingly popular for a wide swath of the population. And in particular it seems to be about where the boundaries of "theatre" really are.


So I was very interested to see this article that just appeared at nytimes.com, filed under the theatre section, about a communal bike ride with soundtrack. It sounds really cool, but it hit me in a particular way because it made me wonder: what is the essence of theatre, and when does something stop being theatre and move on to being something else? Is a group of avatars performing an original play in the virtual world World of Warcraft theatre? Is, as was recently written about in the Times, a show put on for an audience of one in which the audience member is pushed from one upsetting situation to another like a television station changing channels theatre? Is a bike ride with music theatre, if it's done by 50 people at once and is choreographed to use the city as the actor?

In my interviews for this piece so far, there's been a throughline, particularly with artists, that theatre can be so much more than it is without losing its specialness. I've heard people argue that there are, in fact, very few requirements for a piece of theatre: it doesn't need a specific space, it doesn't even really need actors, or a script, or even the realization that you're seeing theatre. And at the same time, there's an overtone of "theatre is, somehow, fundamentally different." It's not TV, it's not film. Finding that balance, especially as we start wandering into cyberspace not just to market but to make and present work, is difficult--and even more so when, as with Joyride, the show referenced in the nytimes.com piece, trappings of a digital world, gaming, music, synchronicity across personal universes, comes back into the physical space and challenges the traditional work being made today.

What do you think? What is theatre, what isn't? Who judges? Does it matter?


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