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Libby's avatar

Can you describe the experience of live theatre and if you watch a recording is it the same experience?

Asked by Libby (35points) June 20th, 2009
Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

14 Answers

applesaucemanny's avatar

I think it’d be like a million times better to watch it live… like would you go a see a concert of your favorite musician live or a dvd version of it?

Darwin's avatar

Live is ever so much better.

Libby's avatar

I’m working on performing arts archives outreach. Just throwing the question out there.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Watching a recorded performance is merely a 1 off from the human experience you get from live performances.

That’s why Cirque du Soleil is fantastic live and something less on DVD.

Libby's avatar

Can you explain why that may be? Is it the lack of atmosphere? Would recording several versions of the performance from differing camera angles produce something closer to the real event or is it impossible to preserve something as ephemeral as performance. Are archivists wasting their time doing so? Do we need performing arts collections? Thank you to everyone for your replies.

Darwin's avatar

Right now a recording is the closest thing we have to explaining how good a performance was. It is very far from perfect, but it at least gives us something to actually evaluate. “Everyone” will say Nureyev was a fantastic dancer, but unless you saw him dance (I did once) you have no way to know what that actually means. However, a recording will at least give you an idea.

Recordings also document how performance has changed. As instruments change and as tastes change, the actual performance may be very different now than it was in the past.

No, archivists are not wasting their time. However, they need to continue to seek better and better ways to catch ephemeral performances.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Recordings may get close but recordings can’t reproduce the sensation of space between you and the performers.

The sound experience is also something that’s hard to reproduce. There’s also re sensation of peoples responses around you in the audience.

The home/recorded experience just can’t reproduce this. People spend a lot of money trying, but it just can’t happen.

Jeruba's avatar

Live theatre is dramatically different. Here are some of the ways:

1. Going out. When you’ve paid for tickets, anticipated the event, got dressed up and gone out, parked and walked, etc., and entered the theatre space with a crowd, you have a sense of occasion that you do not have when you simply sit down and pop a DVD in the box. Also, other people are part of the occasion and you are part of theirs.

2. Physical space. The depth and dimensions of a stage can’t be reproduced on a small screen.

3. Viewing angle. You see the show from a single point of view, not the multiple angles, closeups, etc., that you get in a performance on film. This can be seen as a minus or a plus. To me it is a constant reminder that I am part of an audience and not sitting at home. You are within the three dimensions of the space and not outside them.

4. Stage vs. screen conventions. Filmed theatre is not nearly as effective on film as a production that is designed and directed for screen viewing. It looks like a filmed play. But because it is on the screen, all our screen conventions kick in, and we notice that the set doesn’t look real—it looks like a theatre set. The floor is flat. The effects are stagey. The camera angles are not optimal. And so on. In other words, we expect literalness of a screen production—realism—whereas we do not when viewing the show live in a theatre. Our imagination fills in all the particulars in the theatre, but a show seen on the screen invokes the usual screen conventions, and stage drama typically does not and cannot measure up. Instead it looks fake and cheesy.

5. Reactions of others. We are caught up in the reactions of other audience members. It is a group event. It is an experience of numbers and not just of individuals.

And, most of all,

6. Immediacy. There is an excitement in the presence of the actors and the unfolding of the spectacle under the same roof with you, right there in the same room. The fact that it is carried out in real time before your eyes, no editing, no retakes, no guarantees, means that you are not only seeing a story, an entertainment, a drama or comedy or musical, but you are also witnessing a performance by people who are good at what they do (even when they mess up). Whether it’s the Blue Angels or a street busker, your friend’s wedding or your favorite rock group, acrobats at a street fair or racing horses at the derby, there is a quality of being in the event as an eyewitness and participant (even if passive) that never exists when you view a video later.

I love watching DVDs at home, sitting comfortably, not being dressed up, being able to stop and start at my pleasure, getting refreshments, talking during the performance, and all the other things you feel free to do in front of a screen at home. I also like going out to the movies, seeing the show on a big screen, munching popcorn, and so on (and not talking to my neighbor or putting my feet up on the seat in front of me). I don’t expect all the comforts and conveniences when I go to a play in a theatre. I expect an experience quite unlike the others. There is no substitute for being there.

This is not to say that there is no point in making archival recordings. Of course there is. But they will never have the impact of the real thing.

andrew's avatar

I agree with all of this…. with one exception:

While in drama school I saw a production of Hamlet that was a live television production simulcast on TV in the UK in the ‘60s(?)... and while I’m sure watching it live would have been spectacular, seeing it at all was pretty amazing. I only saw the last scene, but, I mean… the swordplay alone was incredible. They don’t do that type of stage combat anymore. It was amazing.

YARNLADY's avatar

I do not enjoy live performences, but prefer recorded. I hate sitting in seats that hundreds of other people have sat in, I don’t like the smell of hundreds of people in a small enclosed space, I can only hear parts of what the people say, and I usually have trouble seeing them. If I sit close, there is too much going on to see it all, and further back, I’m nearly blind. I much prefer the comfort of my own home, the enchanced sound, and the ability to replay parts I especially liked.

simpleD's avatar

There is reality, and there is simulation. When we prefer the simulation to the real, Baudrillard called it hyperreality. The simulation becomes more real than real. Look at stone washed jeans, Las Vegas, or the suburbs. It’s similar with a recording or photograph. An edited recording has all the imperfections of the real removed. But it is those imperfections that make life, and live performances, wonderful and unique.

lifeflame's avatar

In live performance, there’s the ability to interact with the audience.

I don’t just mean in concerts, stand-up comedy or plays where the performer directly addresses the audience. Even in plays where there is a fourth wall, as a performer you learn to sense what the energy of an audience is and adjust to it. So Friday’s audience’s might be quite tired, or another show might be full of students. In this sense, live performance has the potential to be much more of a two way conversation than e.g., film.

That, and the fact that a collective has the ability to amplify emotion.
Actually, when you think about it, the collective attentiveness of say, eighty, two hundred people in the audience is really powerful. Tension becomes palpable, not only from the energy of the performer, but resonates from the sides. Teachers and performers know this: after you give a performance, you come out on a high; but when you give a terrible performance, you really feel like shit. There’s a tangible interaction going on here.

Libby's avatar

Thanks again. What can the recorded version give and how can you get people interested in that?

andrew's avatar

Commentary! Interviews! Any sort of meta theatricality would help supplement an archive.

Also, I find that unfortunately it’s important to have super wide shots of performances to make it read… otherwise you’re imposing film direction over the stage direction, the audience loses its ability to scan the stage, and you get a sort of negating effect.

If it’s possible to get great sound from the stage, and mix in a little audience sound—I think I would watch that.

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