The Future of Theatre

This short essay was originally submitted to the TCG Generations without Borders essay competition for World Theatre Day 2012, answering, in part, their question of what a generation without borders means to me, a theatrical creator. Happy World Theatre Day, everyone.)


Theatre is inherently local.

As a proud, card-carrying member of the Generation Without Borders, this was a hard realization. With the internet, social networking, RSS feeds, and email listings, it has never been so easy to connect with members of one’s own culture, to find and form groups of people, to communicate, and to connect. For some mediums, this has lead to a new renaissance. Why not for theatres as well! But we theatre-makers can’t take full advantage… at least not in the same way as other mediums are doing so.

For example, consider video-makers; they have never had it so rich, with YouTube alone hosting 48 hours of new content every minute – nearly eight years of content uploaded every day, and over three billion videos viewed each day. We have more and more designer cable networks. Netflix. Hulu. (Though not here in Canada.) There is more potential for creation with this medium than ever before. Not quite borderless, as the Chinese government, and Hulu, and proponents of SOPA and PIPA would assure you, but we’re getting there.

For theatre-makers, however, our medium cannot exponentially blossom in the same way. Don’t get me wrong; with communications technology, some costs do go down. We have new ways to find our audiences. But we are still inherently local; we need bums in seats.

This is, however, also our advantage, for as the world continues to trade face-to-face meetings for phone texts and facebook chats, or television programs for grandmother’s stories, the power of in-person performance can only grow. The strength of theatre – that connection between actors and audience, that sense of singular, ephemeral event – will only grow stronger. As real world connections become fewer and farther between, the electricity of great theatre will become even more shocking, palpitating, energizing.

So I am an optimist. While more people choose to spend their evenings at home, we now have better ways than ever to find those local audience members who want to build theatrical experiences with us. And those people we find, will discover those hours in the theatre to be more radically different to their day-to-day lives than ever before, because here, at its simplest element, is a person in the same room as you, talking to you, telling you a story.

How extraordinary.

Andrew Wade


How I came to terms with the Ephemeral Nature of Theatre

Melting ice cream on a bridge
Image via Wikipedia

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”, says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” – Ecclesiastes, New International Version.

In the New International Version of the Bible, the Hebrew word ‘Hebel’ translates as ‘meaningless’, but the Hebrew word – admittedly being poetically employed – literally meant ‘vapour’, ‘breath’, or ‘absurd’. Or, to use a more theatrical term, ephemeral.

“Ephemeral! Ephemeral!”, says the Teacher. “Utterly ephemeral! Everything is ephemeral.”

It can be too easy for us theatre artists to develop inferiority complexes. Paintings survive for centuries. Musical scores play on. Films and television shows rise again on DVDs and stream on Netflix. But a theatrical performance happens once, and then is gone.

Charity show
Image via Wikipedia

We theatre artists wrestle with the question of whether or not what we are creating is important; after all, what perseveres? Do we really contribute to society if the creation ends the moment the final curtain falls? If there are no monuments standing at the end of our resumés?

Do we deserve that allotment of charity funding that could go to another non-profit society?

But we are not the only ephemeral creators out there, flitting about in an ocean of solid substance. Everything is ephemeral. The permanence of other mediums is an illusion. We all create works that move the hearts, minds, and spirits of both our audiences and our collaborators, and then our works disappear.

Different mediums have different strengths and weaknesses (which I have even attempted to chart at one time), but permanence? Everything is ephemeral. Just like theatre. Just like life.

Andrew Wade

Melting Down
Image by Yogendra174 via Flickr
Enhanced by Zemanta