a mash-up of future (of technology) & theatre
We support local theatre. In fact, just this year we received a thank you note from the local theatre company where we have seasons tickets thanking us for ten years of continuous patronage. At six shows per year, for ten years, our involvement with just that one particular company spans about sixty shows, with no plans to stop there.
On the other hand, both my wife and I are in jobs deeply embedded in the information technology sector. It wouldn’t be a far stretch to add a line to either of our job descriptions that evoked the notion of “digitizing services” or simply, part of an industry where we are turning actions that for years have been in the realm of real people doing real face-to-face work into things that people do online, or face-to-screen. We automate.
Part of the attraction to theatre, of course, is that it is not automated. Sure, the ticketing process has become an electronic service, and I’m almost certain that behind the scenes the level of technical integration escalates at a slow but steady rate. Heck, some of the regular actors are now people I follow on Twitter, a level of social-technical integration that arguably adds to the intimacy of live theatre.
Each year we look back to the rows behind us and make note that there seems to be a few more empty seats than the year previous. Our first years as seasonal members we (anecdotally) recall full house shows or longer waits leaving the parking lot at the end of the night. Now, routinely, there always seems to be availability in the house and a quicker exit from the lot.
And part of that, one might suppose, is that we live in a world that is migrating more and more to recorded media. In the years we’ve been holders of season tickets at the live theatre, we’ve also migrated to high definition television, upgraded to Blu-ray, become Netflix subscribers, added extra bandwidth to our mobile devices, installed fast WiFi throughout our house, bought an in-home media server, and become one of those households with an average of three screens per person. All this additional entertainment capacity and saturation of our choices has turned our attendance at live theatre into a bit of a cultural indulgence that we consciously maintain because of its eclectic value to our lives, and not because we’re lacking options.
Of course, the experience of live theatre is not something that is easily replicated by a screen. Direct recordings or otherwise face-to-screen versions of plays or musicals lack the inherent qualities that still sell (expensive) tickets to their face-to-face counterparts. Interpretations and adaptations exist, but survive on merits more tied to storytelling and cinematic quality than the experience of the theatre itself.
Yet to suppose that our future is lacking a yet-to-be-invented or never-used-that-way technology which will replace the theatre experience with a digital analog is probably naive. Someday, just as we have figured out ways to replace so much else with a digital equivalent, e-theatre (or whatever we call it) will actually be something that people pay for, enjoy, and look to as the clear and obvious replacement for hundreds of people in a dark room watching live actors on a stage. I don’t claim to know what that is, how it will work, or what it might look like… but I’d wager that I might live to see such a thing.
Is the role of the current theatre community to watch and rally against it, much like the recording industry railed against digital media? Or is there are role for actors and directors, theatre owners and audiences to shape and inform what that future looks like even as it incrementally evolves from the technological corners of the world? Do we put our heads in the sand and hope it passes, leaving our eclectic interests alone… or do we strap on an Oculus Rift or a pair of Google Glass and become an integral part of that technological evolution?