Thursday, January 22, 2009

What Makes Good Theatre

The very first page of the course packet held one rule that, for the most part, outlines my own thoughts on what makes theatre good.

Rule #21. Include music (Allen 1).
(Siewerth and Rivera wrote along similar lines.)

Now, on the surface, and I mean as shallow as it gets, I'm talking about music pertaining to musical, since most of the theatre that I consider life changing involves singing and dancing, really throwing the body and soul into the music and the moment.

But then, I thought, that's just too obvious.  And way too easy.

Until I came to UT Austin, my understanding of "good" theatre was the above.  Flashy musicals that contained an inventive score, talented actors/vocalists, visually effective and innovative choreography, and a cohesive relationship between the book and the score.  But when I came here, and was thrown in the middle of this culturally thriving city, I became more aware and open to the theatrical concepts that had once been foreign to me.

The most easily relatable example seems to be music.  I've become aware that silence is just as effective in enhancing a critical moment, causing just as much impact upon the ear.  Instrumentally speaking, this was something I always knew, but had never really applied to theatre.  With that said, can it not be established that silence also must be included in any piece in order to allow time for the audience and performers to reflect upon the actions and language of the work?  I feel that any dynamic requires contrat anywhere within any given piece.

So from that conclusion, another can be drawn.  Every element in a genuinely good theatrical piece is balanced by it opposite (but equal) element.  Music would go unappreciated and become mentally exhausting without audible rest, articulated movement unnoticed without total stillness, comedy would lack if there was no tragic offset intermittently.  To take an example that we discussed in class, "Sweeny Todd," was deemed good theatre by what seemed to be everyone.  Though Tim Burton obviously held some different views on how the show should be interpreted on film, on stage, it is a comedy.  The reason that it works is that it is surrounded by tragedy.  The comedic portions of the piece are highlighted in contrast to the darkness.  Think about how the show would've been had it been set in the lovely, happy, sunshiny London that one would normally envision.  Less effective by far, because the entire piece would be giggles and rainbows (which is not the best comparison I've ever made, considering that there is still the matter of slitting throats and losing love.... but you see what I am getting at).  The back and forth feeling of emotion keeps the audience entertained.

(*Side note: I feel like the connotation for "entertained" is powerful, yet misleading.  When I hear the word, I associate it with positive actions, envisioning laughter, which of course is one way in which to be entertained, however, entertainment, for argument's sake, needs to be defined as the emotional investment of the audience, regardless of what emotions are being experienced.)

So, good theatre (or good performance, since I am also applying this to dance and general performance art, really) is a balancing act.  And element followed by its opposite element of equal strength.  (Keeping the intensity of the opposition can be just as important in some cases.)  Balance.  Harmony.  Centered chi.  Whatever.  Good theatre makes us feel a little bit of everything while trying to teach something, no matter how subtle or dynamic.

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