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Nullo's avatar

Why do you suppose that the theater gets more suspension of disbelief than the silver screen?

Asked by Nullo (21828 points ) July 13th, 2012

Went to watch the theatrical production of Disney’s Aladdin the other night and was struck by the minimalist (at least, relative to movie sets) approach to the stage design. They had some flats, a giant turntable, stairs, some carts, and a pile of costumes, leavened with smoke and lights and I suspect a relative of the common forklift.

A feature film with that level of detail would be ridiculous (amateurish?) and only watched for the heaps of cheese that it would produce or else really solid work on the filming end. But the 11,000-seat theater place was packed for the second week running.

Are our expectations of the stage that much lower? Do we not focus on production value as much as we think that we do?

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6 Answers

6rant6's avatar

Personally, I see elaborate sets as an imposition on theater, not a bonus. It’s for people who think that elaborate detail is art.

I saw Richard III last night. Front row center. Enlightened, charismatic, joyful performance by the lead. I could look in his eyes, and at least it seemed he could look in mine. Movies can’t touch that experience.

It was largely bare stage with an elevator. But the memorable bits were the man alone on stage. Keep you sets; give me humanity.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, you have to work harder at suspending reality to enjoy it.

Zaku's avatar

My imagination is much more interesting to me than most Hollywood special effects, especially CGI ones made by people trying to be impressive by exaggerating everything’s speed and hyper-ness. My imagination steps in when what I’m watching isn’t saturated with special effects or even with realistic sets. Abstract, artistic, and/or minimal sets are an invitation both to the imagination, and to focus attention on other aspects besides visual details, such the characters, the story, the emotions, the ideas…

Similar issues exist in computer games. When a character can be represented by a few pixels or even a dot or single text character, my imagination fills in, and this used to be enough. Now game making companies are paying millions and spending many man-years to make a game look realistic, but it has the same sort of effect, focusing attention on often-superficial visuals, removing player imagination, and creating expectations of expensive eye candy, while distracting from the non-visual game content. Many of the early computer games (often made by a few people, or even one) are much more interesting as games than much more modern games with huge budgets and staffs.

zenvelo's avatar

I think because seeing an actual person experience or express something on stage makes it real, while an actor on the screen needs to be completely engrossed in the setting.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Live theater is imminently more engrossing for me than movies, but then I do a lot of live theater by acting, directing, and managing productions. Like @6rant6, I find elaborate sets get in the way of the performances. I really like @6rant6‘s comment: “give me humanity.” That’s the soul of live theater.

I act, because I’m driven to do it. It’s a real passion. I have to do it. It’s more than a hobby for me. There is something in me that comes to a new level of life when I am on stage in costume delivering lines from great playwrights of many different eras. I am wholly engrossed by the experience.

I direct to bring life to the words of the playwright through the actions of other actors. I like to paint pretty pictures. I directed this play last Christmas time, and it was a hit. The set consisted of 2 cubes and a set of stairs leading nowhere. The actors had to carry the burden of the play. There were lighting effects that aided the action, but the audience really had to let their imaginations soar.

I only do the managing producer’s part when no one else will step forward. It’s not the fun part.

Let me conclude by simply stating that I find live theater allows me to participate in ways that movies don’t. Live theater requires my active involvement. Movies, while they can be very entertaining, usually are more for relaxation.

dabbler's avatar

Seems to me this covers a couple topics…

Live theatre has the advantage that we automatically buy into wanting the story, whatever is presented has only to support the story. The most elegant theatre needs only the merest of set production, and is written well enough to put the point across with words and gestures of the actors.

Big ‘Broadway’ productions offer lavish set and costuming as one of their features, often the story is incidental. The sets and production are an artform in themselves. They don’t try to be realistic, even when they are very elaborate they are fantasy/“cheesy” in ways that don’t translate well to film.

We usually expect ‘feature’ films to convince us a bit more, to look a bit more realistic. That is not always the case and some really masterful films get the job done with succinct dialogue and superb acting.

But my answer to your question is that feature films are more realistic because they can be. The opportunity to get the investment back is so much greater for a feature film the budgets are often hundreds of millions of $$ and they achieve some great realistic immersion. You can’t come up with that kind of money for most stage productions.

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