If Theatre Isn't Dead, Let Me Kill It

I have come to the conclusion after a lifetime of acting and writing for the theatre, that the theatrical experience largely sucks and there is absolutely no redemption for it...
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Part 1. Time is Somewhat Relative

Before we begin let me state: this is a theatrical piece about the theatrical experience. I take the liberty to tell this from the male POV as the character writing the piece is my animus AL. Al Fine wrote this portion of the piece, while Allison Fine approved.  Part 2 was written by Allison with Al’s acquiescence. (Under some slight duress.)

Gertrude Stein once wrote at length about the theatrical experience—about how the experience of time in the presence of a live play, while sitting in the audience, was frustrating because one was always either ahead of, or behind the action of the play. Her theory was that you could never really enjoy a play in present moment because of the natural tendency to either ruminate on what just happened or extrapolate into what might happen.

Of course, there are some plays you’ve seen a thousand times, such as Hamlet. In that case, you are analyzing how much of the script is cut, how does this Hamlet compare with previous Hamlets you’ve seen, what are the production values, do the accents match accordingly, is Ophelia too pretty to be intelligent? Etc, etc, etc.

I hasten to add that, in addition, another distraction is the general ambience of the theatrical experience. As an audience member, instead of reveling in this wonderful group experience, you are often painfully aware of your seat, your body, who is seated next to you or in front of you, and depending on the night or after noon you attend the play, you may ask yourself: am I in style?Am I dressed up too much or down too much? Is my skirt or pants appropriate? How does my make up look? Female theatregoers, cross dressers, male or LBGT theatregoers may meditate on: How much did these fucking tickets cost? Is this going to be worth it or am I going to be tired afterwards? (Look at watch.) How much time am I spending vs. the input of enjoyment? Is this a cost effective thing to do? Many will obsess about whether the date will defray the cost by paying his or her share. Others will ask themselves if they will “get lucky” tonight, or perhaps wonder if he/she even wants to “get lucky” tonight? Will he/she want a meal afterwards and what kind of meal? How can I get rid of her/him if things go sour? These questions plague the theatregoer though few, if any, ever wish to admit it.

You sit, you sit, you sit, you shift in your (often uncomfortable but sometimes comfortable) chair, obsessing over self-image and self-esteem.

All of this has a terrible disruptive effect upon the time element. Although time is relative, as Einstein proved, it is also elastic and it does seem to go much slower when one is waiting for something that is supposed to be exciting while simultaneously worrying about a thousand things having nothing to do with the thing one is waiting for. You sit, you sit, you sit, you shift in your (often uncomfortable but sometimes comfortable) chair, obsessing over self-image and self-esteem. Maybe you are going over and over in your head a conversation you had with someone in an elevator at work wondering if this person admires you or thinks you an idiot. Or fretting about an ambiguous phone call received from a now married ex girlfriend who laughs uncontrollably at her own bad joke and then, in a small, girlish voice, says: “And you know how I feel about all of your quirks!” Oh, how do you feel about all my quirks? To which she replies, “Oh, honey! Let’s meet up next week!” And clicks off. At which point you (Al) spin uncontrollably into giddiness, fear and something else resembling indigestion or worse, an impending heart attack. Just as you lean against a street art display of weird lamps producing Irish music to get your bearings, she sends a cryptic text: Everything will work out fine! Don’t worry. Did you see Andrew’s new play “I Killed My Mother?”

Another ruination of fun precipitated by the live theatre experience is the appearance of the actors and the play on stage. They do nothing to ease the feeling that one is putting up with being incredibly physically uncomfortable  for no apparent reason because the disappointment factor is so huge. In fact, I am sure most audience members secretly feel they would rather be watching the filmed version of this play at home on their couch with a brandy and coffee and the over-priced Afghan from OneKingsLane.com.

Thus, I have come to the conclusion after a lifetime of acting and writing for the theatre, that the theatrical experience largely sucks and there is absolutely no redemption for it. The pay off is categorically not worth the discomfort endured. We have, to our surprise, moved from a word-centered culture to a vision-oriented culture and we crave, even demand, that visual displays take us away from the largely depressing theatrical displays of life that we encounter on a daily basis. Just riding the bus in an urban environment can provide as much entertainment as the average play on or off Broadway and let us not even try to entrain the torture of great playwriting mangled by regional theatres in Montana or Idaho.

I think you’ve probably guessed it. I am in the midst of a terrible life tragedy. I hate theatre. I’ve written over 20 stage plays and performed in over 100. And here I am, at the fulcrum point of multiple careers that are going absolutely nowhere. Therefore I have the luxury to declare that I am perfectly prepared to kill Theatre. As a self-declared “Legend in My Living Room,” I can now be the Murderer of a Legend in My Living Room. If I had a living room. My studio apartment doesn’t afford that luxury. But I am not mean spirited because I am poor, I am mean spirited because I hate things that promise enjoyment and deliver only pain, or worse yet, boredom. And, I am afraid, Theatre has for me and most others delivered both terrible agony and awful tedium over the centuries and centuries we’ve endured it.

Theatre is dead in the water not because of writers but because of bad performances and ill-begotten directors!

2. Bathroom

The other nagging problem is always the one of going to the bathroom.

Many women have reported to me spending huge amounts of time in the theatre finding out where the nearest bathroom is, avoiding drinking too much water or other beverage in case she has to leave her seat and find the bathroom in the middle of the show, and of course, dreading the intermission wars where woman of all shapes, sizes and ages fight their way through crowds, enduring the difficulty of bladder control and long lines out the door until a stall is available. This really takes away from a woman’s joy and fun in the theatre-going adventure and of course, adds to the burden of frustration, defeat, irritation and exhaustion that mars the experience and renders it awful. Going to the bathroom will ruin theatre any day or night no matter what the play, the writer or the century.

It is therefore recommended that companies tape their plays and allow us to check them out, much like a library, where we can take the CD’s home and watch the play at our leisure—pushing the pause button anytime we want to and whenever we have to go to the bathroom.

There is so much more to say about how awful theatre really is, but in the interest of brevity I am forced to reveal my secret: I am in the process of developing a method of murdering theatre without blood. I have come up with the following: strangulation. Strangulation is silent and can eliminate actors, directors, technicians and especially that new thing called a Dramaturge. I have some exceptions to my proposal. I would amend the need to kill theatre if I could meet mano y mano with the following (not alphabetically): Shakespeare, Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, Christopher Durang, Samuel Beckett, Euripides, Bertold Brecht, Neil Simon, August Wilson, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Sam Shepherd, Lanford Wilson, Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekov, David Mamet, Tom Stoppard, August Strindberg—oh my goodness. I hate to admit this but I will let theatre live for just one more day. However if I see another bad performance of any of the plays by these astonishing writers, it’s dead. I mean it. I am serious. Strangulation. I know people in New Jersey and they ain’t gonna take this lying down. Theatre is dead in the water not because of writers but because of bad performances and ill-begotten directors! I’ll keep the writers alive (or dead as the case may be), but the buildings that house the performers and the performers themselves have got to go.

I rest my case.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.

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