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mazingerz88's avatar

What is the appeal of watching a stage play as compared to watching a film?

Asked by mazingerz88 (18366 points ) January 26th, 2013

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stage play. Recently though, I’ve been reading those that were written by Sam Shepard. I was curious as to how a movie script differs from the way a playwright writes his play.

Once in a while, I would have this strong interest to see a stage play. Those that a very few famous Hollywood stars delve into. Like Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts and now, Tom Hanks. Maybe one day, I’ll make it to at least one of these performances. Maybe not.

For now, I’m quite curious as to what jellies might like about stage plays in comparison to movie watching. Thanks.

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12 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

Plays are a totally different world from film. In film, you try to make it as realistic as possible. This is how you get people to suspend disbelief. It’s as if you were watching it live.

But the stage is different. Instead of realism, you have the fourth wall. The actors are imagining they can’t see the audience (there’s a wall there, instead), the the audience is also imagining they are a fly on the wall.

But the actors have to play to the theater. So they have to raise their voices and project to the back rows. They must make gestures larger than life. There are many other cheesy theatrical tricks used and we all agree to see these as substitutes for real life, instead of cheesy special effects.

For many years, this was difficult for me to do, and I preferred film. I hated how cheesy theater was.I couldn’t suspend disbelief because everything kept reminding me I was in a theater and that this wasn’t very realistic.

But later on, I grew a taste for the conventions of theater. There are things you can do live you can’t do film. The interactions between the actors are more real, and they change in response to things that happen in the audience. This never happens in film.

There are so many differences between film and theater, and people, I’m sure, write books about it. I could go on much more, but I won’t. This is enough for fluther.

gailcalled's avatar

@mazingerz88: If you were ever in Jr. or Senior High School, you have seen a stage play. Our Town, HMS Pinafore, Peanuts? Your friends on stage in silly costumes prancing about and forgetting their lines?

ucme's avatar

I’ve never had the pleasure, but i’d imagine the thrill of watching live performances, where so much hangs in the balance, would be fascinating. I wish i’d seen Sleuth on the stage, but it wasn’t to be.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Live theater has a more immediate impact on the audience. As an actor, I can tell you that we feed on the responses we get from the people in the seats. As an audience member, I have been captivated by seeing an actor transformed throughout the course of an evening.

I have been on stage with other actors, and I have felt the electricity of the relationship between the characters. The emotions are a bit different each night of performance. There are new gestures and new intonations not there previously. It builds. It’s organic.

I have never felt that in film. I have acted for film, and it’s utter artifice for me. I’m acting and reacting to a situation without the benefit of the other characters even being present. In Grand Hotel when Greta Garbo gave her infamous line, “I just want to be left alone,” she was literally alone besides the camera and stage crew. Her fellow actors were not present.

The other advantage live theater has over movies for the actors involved is that we do the play in the order it was written. Movies are shot on different schedules according to who’s available when to make the best use of everybody’s time involved. By doing it in the order it was written, a character can grow and change from the inside. When I watch movies, I get the idea the actors are playing charades most of the time.

I have directed other actors and watched them transformed by ideas. I know movie directors talk to their actors, too, but I’ve never had the notion they affected character development on the level a live performance director does. That may be something that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

There’s always those moments in live theater when things go wrong, and hilarity ensues. In community theater, that may be the norm. ;-)

I am biased. I am the immediate past president of the board of directors of my local community theater. I do a lot of theater. I act, direct, produce, and publicize. I’m steeped in it.

I enjoy movies for the most part, but I can never get over the idea that the actors are building relationships the way stage actors are forced to.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

EDIT: I enjoy movies for the most part, but I can never get over the idea that the actors are not building relationships the way stage actors are forced to.

Pachy's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake and @wundayatta have made truly insightful comments. They, as I, are lovers of the stage. I can only add that it’s really exciting to see any fine actor delivering a peformance right in front of you, and even more so when it’s someone you’ve seen on the screen. Both my parents loved theatre and even did a little acting, so theatre and theatre people were a big part of my growing up. Years after that, living in NYC for a number of years, I got to see many wonderful plays including Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady” and so many others.

zenvelo's avatar

I saw Death of a Salesman last summer at a small company in San Francisco, with some actors who are getting known but have not quite made it to the big time yet. It was incredible how I could feel the anger and despair of Willy Loman. Same thing with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in A Steady Rain on Broadway. The actors become the character, the feeling is visceral. And it is all in the moment.

I love movies, but a movie is the same every night. A play is its own being every performance.

Sunny2's avatar

The primary difference is that theater is a live performance. @Hawaii_Jake describes it very well. It’s a bit different for each performance. There’s no pause for a retake. The actors are living beings and are easier to relate to. In movies, when something bad happens and you don’t want to look, you can tell yourself, “It’s just a movie.” Things that happen on stage are more real, and although they may use fake blood, it’s “happening” to real people. Each form of drama has its appeal. I like both, but I’ve never fallen asleep during a staged performance.

Jeruba's avatar

Theatre and film are very different media. In general, a playscript is about words. A movie is about action.

In a play, there is a single unmoving audience viewpoint for each viewer and a relatively small number of scene changes. A movie has closeups, medium and long shots, pans, etc., and directing and editing closely control what the audience sees. In a movie you can see the actors actually crossing a mountain or falling into the ocean. There’s no way you can make that kind of movement look real on stage. But you can see characters interacting directly with one another instead of possibly being on separate continents and never having met.

The presence of live actors on the stage in front of you gives theatre a thrilling immediacy, but that has to be a kind of meta-awareness that you keep in your head in order to appreciate it. The same goes for opera, ballet, symphony, and other live performances. But to me the real difference is in the medium itself: the use of language, the role of stage direction, the continuity of a sustained performance, the (often subtle) interaction with the audience, and the delivery of the story in clearly delineated acts and scenes rather than as a series of film snippets of variable length.

wildpotato's avatar

I agree with wundy and Jake – it’s the more visceral interactions of the Fourth Wall you get with live theater (though I also love it when they play with the Wall in TV and film). And the spontaneity that the immediacy of live theater often generates is wonderful. I saw this performance of Romeo & Juliet once where Romeo forgot to bring the dagger onstage for the final death scene in the crypt. Juliet, of course, needs that dagger to stab herself after she wakes up and finds Romeo dead from poison. So instead of stabbing herself, Juliet reached into her bodice and ripped her own heart out! By tearing the blood bag, that is. Incredible! It was possibly even more perfect than the stabbing would have been – and improvised, at that.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree that stage is quite different from the movies. Sometimes the stage can be an acquired taste, takes a few shows to see what you like, musicals, dramas, comedies. Generally I don’t like musicals when they are turned into movies, maybe the only one I really thought was very good was Evita with Madonna.

Movies can have special effects you cannot do on stage, although some of the stage sets are amazing. In Wicked when the bad witch does a scene with the flying monkeys it is so much like the movie The Wizard of Oz it surprised me. If we include the ballet, the set for the second act of the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center in NYC is breathtaking, I hav heard an audible moment of wonderment in the audience as the curtain opens. At musicals, when a character sings a song that is amazingly beautiful and often part of the climax of the story; I have been brought to tears as their voice fills the theatre.

When I go to live theatre I am more impressed with the sets, lighting, even the acting in terms of how there is no real chance to mess up and reshoot.

If you live where your community gets Broadway tour shows, I recommend seeing a few of those. I don’t remember if you are in America? Or, a novel you enjoyed or a movie. See how it translates to stage. I think you will be surprised.

Interestingly, I get more lost with the characters when I watch a movie. When I watch stage I feel like the actors up there know we the audience are right there, and they are playing a part.

Symbeline's avatar

Well, it is different. Good thing there’s answers here that really point them out, because I can’t explain how. I’ve been to a few plays, and even played in one myself. Personally I did not enjoy playing in the play very much, but it was an experience. But watching them is very cool. It’s way different than movies, for reasons listed by many here. I mean in a movie you get effects and action and violence, and you can enjoy all that without really getting a feel for anything. But to enjoy a play, you have to get into what’s happening and get a feel for all the characters. I think sometimes maybe that’s why plays aren’t too popular with everyone because it requires more than a passive attention span. XD

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