Monday, April 6, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W14: Filmed Theater, Remote Art

I remember once having a spirited online discussion with a friend about the validity of filmed theater. She feared that people would assume filmed theater was the same as live theater, and that it would 1, not give people the true and wonderful experience of live theater (and therefore make them think theater isn't all that much), and 2, deter people from attending live theater in favor of watching filmed theater from the more affordable movie theater seat, or even sitting at home.

I understand her point. You can only capture so much of a performance when you film it, and for that matter, all you're capturing is one performance. One of theater's greatest virtues is that it is ephemeral. What you see at one performance will never be perfectly repeated. The essence and story, yes (we hope), but it changes. And of course with a filmed performance, the viewer lacks that interpersonal connection that is achieved in live theater: our ability to give back, even in part, a thanks and tribute for the performance given us, be it applause, laughter, or tears.

But I can't dismiss the entire enterprise. My first experience of Into the Woods (and the beginning of my deep affection for the works of Stephen Sondheim) was watching the PBS broadcast of the OBC in my dad's apartment when I was a kid. I didn't fool myself that the video was the be-all end-all of theater, but my goodness what a precious archival document of the original production and those performers. What a boon that gives more than just reading a script or listening to a cast album. We as a theater community have been blessed with many filmed performances of Sondheim's various works (in recent years, due almost entirely to the efforts of Lonny Price, bless him). The video of Into the Woods wasn't live theater, but it was a taste. A sample. A gateway. A chance for those of us without access either to see these productions live or to see quality live theater locally, to see what it could be, what we could do. What we might do.

These days (well not these specific days, but generally) I am uniquely lucky to live in New York and make enough that I can afford to see an abundance of live theater. But there are many who are not, and there are countless productions elsewhere to which even spoiled little I don't always have access.  Filmed and streaming theater is not only a resource to see past productions, but also a way to sneak us in by a digital skeleton key. I've long been a fan of the National Theatre Live broadcasts from London, and the occasional Fathom event. I've visited the video archives at both Lincoln Center and the V&A. It's not the same thing, but it's a sample. A taste. A remnant and a reminder. What we have done. What we might do again.

These actual specific days, it's all we have. Remote theater. Removed theater. I miss live theater. I don't know when we'll get it back. Even when the social distancing policy begins to relax, I think theater will be one of the last holdouts, for the safety of both audience and performers. Theater is intimate. Theater expectorates. Streaming theater isn't the real thing, but it isn't sand either.

This past week I've been trying to take advantage of our streaming resources for theater. Here's what I watched:

And then, first thing this morning, I watched John Krasinksi's Some Good News, which reunited the OBC cast of Hamilton to sing their opening number.

Other theater-related developments this week:
Adam Schlesinger died from coronavirus complications. I am heartbroken.
MTC canceled its Off-Broadway runs of Poor Yella Rednecks and The Best We Could (a family tragedy) and Vineyard canceled Dana H., Tuvalu, or the Saddest Song, and its gala benefit.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2020 is canceled.
Alvin Ailey now has an online streaming series.
The Lucille Lortel Awards ceremony will be held online this year.

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