So I'm doing this world premiere production at Delaware Theatre Co (closing weekend already! how did that happen?) -- a (mostly) a cappella, modern retelling of the biblical gospel stories through a reality-show lens. It's a fast, fun, funny commentary on our technology-driven lives: my Mary has a belt of cellphones around her waist and a growing Twitter following; the Magi follow a "star" with the aid of text messages and GPS. There's a live camera feed projected onto two huge screens onstage (as seen in the photo above), and our a cappella/beat-boxed songs are juxtaposed with projections and pre-recorded snippets. It's rather meta. As we explored these themes throughout the process, the cameras and the personas and screen vs. stage, the discussion (probably inevitably) came around to the business model of the theater and how it is(n't) keeping up with the times. How we could be live streaming these performances around the world, but we're often prevented from doing that by our own artists' unions. How virtually every other business works on residual income, getting the product out to greater and greater numbers of people, through the most efficient means possible... and the theater is restricted to however many butts there are seats for in any given house on any given evening. And then the show closes, and if you missed it, too bad! It's over, unless it gets re-mounted or somebody finds the money and inspiration to take it to the next level -- and even then, even if all the same artists come back to do it again, it won't be the same.
But wait. Isn't that kind of the whole point?
Don't we go to the theater precisely in order to get away from the screen, to get in the same room with a few dozen or few hundred other people, to share that energy and see it, hear it, feel it firsthand? To have the collective experience -- not just watch someone else go through something but actually go through it together? Because we can feel it, viscerally, the human voice and human experience -- and when I'm in my room and you're in yours it's a nice proxy, maybe, but we do still know the difference between a screen and the real thing. We can live-stream stage shows all we want, but it's a little like looking at your friends' vacation Mobile Uploads on facebook. They may be showing you what that Hawaiian beach looks like *right now*, but there's no sand between your toes (or Mai Tai in your hand, for that matter).
I'm reminded of the Buddhist monks and their sand mandalas, painstakingly crafted grain by grain into exquisite works of art... and then destroyed. Not saved for posterity or put into a museum for the benefit of the estate (and the public, of course), but swept away, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, a reminder of the impermanence of all things. A reminder that the only real thing is THIS moment, and now this one... and once it's gone, it's gone.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for residual income and I've got nothing against screens (I've been told I look great on camera). I'm going to shoot my music video early next year, and have the time of my life doing it. I'll post it on YouTube and promote it on facebook and maybe someone will watch it on their smartphone someday while they're hurtling through space on a high-speed train. I'm really interested to see how that song, that story, will live on the screen - how it will be differently informed by that medium. And I've gotten incredibly kind comments from fly woman genius listeners and those who have found my work online and been moved by my recordings.
But at heart I still feel that the real magic -- at least, theater magic -- happens in the room together, where the energy is palpable and the show changes every night because the audience does, because the actors are human and fallible and informed by the unique circumstances of that day and that moment. And if you want to know what happens at the show, you'll just have to put your butt in a seat to find out.