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October 22, 2007 / Amy Bradney-George

The Death of the Theatre?

We had a debate today. Team Affirmative, as I decided to call us(one “witty” guy wanted to call us “Team Dan”, but I suspected that was an ego thing of sorts), was arguing that theatre is dead. So…is it?

We argued that theatre, as defined by Aristotle some 2000 plus years ago, is not alive. Performance, on the other hand, we believe is very alive. See, theatre, with a linear narrative and fourth wall, only appeals to a small percentage of todays society. Performance is everywhere (and if you read the work of someone like Schechner, everything).

Team Negative argued this was just an evolution of theatre and could still be called “theatre” as such, but I tend to disagree. If, as scientific theory compelling suggests, humans evolved from some form of ape, why then are we not still called apes? Because we have evolved so much that we could hardly be called apes? Isn’t that the same as with contemporary “theatre”/performance? I would argue yes, but feel free to rebut.

You might have also noticed my headline for today is alluding to Roland Barthes’ essay The Author is Dead, which states that authors are no more than the people writing, and the readers are the ones creating meaning. In his essay, Barthes suggests “death” is a metaphor for a power exhange, or an evolution of sorts. If we apply that same “death” metaphor to the changing face of “theatre”, it could easily be seen as dead.

Either way, it was a very interesting discussion and a number of Team Negative attacked me in their rebuttal. I’ll admit one of them had a very good reason to do this (I got my theories mixed and my words muddled), but I like to think I got the most notice because what I was saying made them think. And, for me, that is the important thing about debates.



Leave a Comment
  1. Poppy / Oct 23 2007 1:00 am

    Ugh. I have debates at my school, that I try to avoid as much as I could. I couldn’t make a good agurment to save my own life.

    I hardly know anything about theatre, but I think it’s better when it’s close to its original definition. Meh.


  2. erikball123 / Sep 8 2008 4:27 pm

    I think you’re missing the point…initially anyways. Isn’t true theatre about a relationship between performer and audience. I mean, you can’t have theatre if there is no audience, right? And “performance” happens when an audience member is “affected” by something they witnessed…onstage or off. Therefore, I would argue that so long as audience members willingly continue to bring themselves to buy a ticket and sit in a chair, theatre lives and breathes.

    I will grant you this…not everyone LIKES traditional “sit-down”….2.5 hours long….dramas anymore. (Hello Reality TV and YouTube.) But…anything can be theatrical. Take the Presidential Debates and Conventions. Drama, drama, drama. Live theatre, wouldn’t you agree.

    I think you’re are arguing about the wrong things. Is “being a performer” by Aristotle’s definition dead? I don’t know. Debate that.

    At least…I hope theatre is still alive. Ha! I like my job.

  3. amybradneygeorge / Sep 8 2008 6:23 pm

    Hey erikball123, I think you might be missing the point I’m making in this entry. I’m exploring the definition of theatre, and whether the traditional sense of “theatre” is dying or dead. From your comment it sounds like what I think of as “performance” you think of as “theatre”, which is all well and good, but doesn’t take into account changes to the definitions of “theatre” and “performance”.

    I would call presidential debates and conventions performance, certainly, but not theatre. I associate theatre with more traditional settings, like the Globe Theatre in London, or our state theatre companies here in Australia. Even they are changing the types of performances they do. They are still generally based on the traditional audience-performer relationship, but more and more Australia’s leading theatre companies are putting on plays that challenge our expectations of “going to the theatre”. They’re more performative, breaking down the fourth wall, incorporating elements which can grow throughout a production season, turning to surrealism and expressionism and away from the cold clarity of realism.

    What about forms like Verbatim Theatre? That is definitely not theatre in a traditional sense, because it is very much about the real – what has happened, how it affects people, what the repercussions could be or are – using the words of people who experienced it.

    The crux of the matter I was detailling is that the traditionally accepted definition of theatre is changing. You may still call it theatre, but I think “performance” incorporates more aspects of this industry.

    Does that make more sense? Or would you like to continue discussing this topic? I’m up for the debate, anyway.



  4. Real Live Theater / Nov 10 2008 1:23 pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful interchange. I offer yet another perspective. In as much as a bee hive is said to be ‘alive with activity’ and NYC ‘comes alive after midnight’, I simply offer that theater is alive so long as people inhabit the space of a theater, working (e.g. rehearsing, designing, casting, writing, painting sets, participating in acting classes, etc.) toward creating a performance. In this way theater is alive. Unlike all too many vacant theater buildings of old that seem to be renovated into upscale restaurants and office space, or worse abandoned and demolished — it is these spaces that are sadly, truly examples of the death of theater.

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