What can only theater do?

From an article in HowlRound – How Television is Influencing Theatre – ““How good TV has become at doing a certain kind of character-driven long-form storytelling really throws down a gauntlet for playwrights,” Itamar Moses says, “and challenges them to answer the question, with their work: What can only theater do? What can’t we get anywhere else? And there’s no one answer to that, but it challenges every playwright to try to come up with theirs.”
As I work to create a new model of doing theatre, one that is sustainable, that will attract audiences, that will give playwrights a reason to keep writing (and I and my other playwright friends are turning out some amazing work and I doubt we will be stopping anytime soon) I keep running into this question. What can only theater do?

Are we doing it for ourselves? Why aren’t people buying tickets? Is it the economy? Are they too busy? Is television so good and so easy to get that it’s not worth it to get up and go somewhere to see it live?

I certainly can spend hours in front of the TV getting extremely good writing and acting every night of the week. And if our audiences are showing us a preference for staying home and getting it on a screen, how can we adapt to that? With digital video technology what it is these days, maybe we move past the idea that putting live theater online is a bad idea. Maybe it’s a great idea. If I live in a town where there’s no live theater, wouldn’t I rather see it online than not at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


4 thoughts on “What can only theater do?

  1. As a long-time actor and a newbie writer I can’t imagine not going to the theater. Great article that brings up loads of issues: decreasing attention spans, perfection versus reality, intimacy, and the loss of that special quality of performing for live, reactive people.

    • Ah, yes – that special quality of performing for live, reactive people. That might be solved by allowing them to tweet during the show – but oh, how i would hate to go there. It’s the focus of attention that makes it work so well – that suspension of normal everyday activity – that around the campfire storytelling thing. If even avid watchers out there in Internet-land were tweeting to each other during the show, would they get what we’re trying to do? Tough questions.

      • Very tough questions. I am envisioning a burka-style shaded hood that audience members would wear so that the blue screens of their iPhones wouldn’t interfere with the actors on stage…

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