Theatre at home: a note

Many years ago, this blog dabbled in reviewing NTLive productions, the filmed versions of current National Theatre performances captured onstage in London with audiences, and brought around the world via cinemas and screenings.  We stopped writing those reviews pretty quickly, because while the filmed versions were made with real skill and captured wonderful productions, it just didn't feel the same.  I genuinely don't think you can accurately judge any theatrical performance through film, and besides, who wants a review of a screening when other people can write (and read) reviews of the real thing?  But now we're in another world- filmed versions of productions are everywhere, starting with the Met's nightly archival performances over to the National choosing to rebroadcast screenings on a weekly schedule on YouTube. Other companies scrambled to record current offerings, such as the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, which filmed two repertory companies' worth of shows before the ensembles parted ways to isolate. Other companies are exploring ways to create new theatre online, such as last night's riveting The Oedipus Project, which translated their mission of theatre readings combined with discussion to a live Zoom conference call that included an audience of 10,000.

I also should admit: I am absolutely terrible about watching taped theatre in my home. If I'm going out to a cinema for a screening, no problem! Love it! Really enjoy the opportunity! But once theatre-- an art form designed to be ephemeral and bound to a certain group of people in a certain time and place sharing the experience together--becomes me in my living room surrounded by all the distractions of my own life, it's very difficult for me to summon the will and focus to not just start, but finish a filmed production. I wish I were better at it! The DVD of the David Tennant Hamlet that's been only half-watched all these years sure wishes I were better at it! I have seen the Globe's revivals of their all-male Twelfth Night a combined total of six times between 2003 and 2014, but only bothered to watch the filmed version from 2012 once.

But, as we all know, we're in a different world. Theatre in our homes is all we have right now, and so I'm trying to be a better at-home audience member. I've seen a few productions this way over the last month and a half, and been grateful for the opportunity. I hope to write about them as I can, to flex the muscles of theatrical criticism for myself as much as for anyone else, and as an act of faith that theatre will come back.

Just last weekend, I had a ticket to see a show in New York City, one that I had bought months and months before All This began, and for a show I wanted to see so very badly. I had to make a choice: take a refund (a valid option for many people right now who need that little influx of cash badly), or make an exchange for a performance now booking September through early January. Nobody knows when it will be safe to sit in the dark in a crowded theatre, surrounded by other people's gasps, occasional snores, laughter, cough-drop crinkling, cell phones, and coughs. Even if I exchanged, there no longer felt like there was any guarantee that the show would be able to go on. I decided to exchange my ticket in the end, in a decision that was part practicality and part radical act of optimism.  I hope I get to use that ticket, I hope we all get to get back into the theatres we love, and I hope that our theatres will be ready and able to bring us art again someday soon.

But for now, I have a laptop and a lot to see.


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