Talking Point

…if a play were to run forever, could it properly be called theater anymore? Instead it would be an ossified strange thing, dangling half-way between live theater, a parade, and an amusement park ride. Think of the longest running plays…what happens to them…what do they become…restaurants and plays should not be open for longer than the half-life of a chef, because they are about living consumable items.

From Sarah Ruhl’s essay series on Device


  1. Simon, this reminds me of what a friend of mine who was in a Phantom tour wrote in answer to a question I had a while back. Really got me thinking. He said:

    What is happening is that we are turning theater into Film. When a show becomes a success and runs past the first cast, what do we do? We don’t close we recast. This new cast comes in and might watch the original performers and be directed by an assistant to the original director. This is the first break with truth. This process happens again and
    again in a show like Phantom. The original intentions of movement and action are given to new actors as arm
    gestures and “counts” instead of intentions and needs.
    After a time the ass. dir. become st. managers and the
    process becomes one of stagnation (with an emphasis on
    continuity rather than reality) this is when theater and in essence art dies. When you turn an actor into a machine that must repeat things exactly we are no better than the different colored lights and sound on a screen. We are then reduced to less than a puppet and the theater a puppet show. It is the fear, of those in command, of change (a critical part of theater) that stifles truth and inhibits reality.

  2. Yep, yes, uh-uh. Exactly, well said MK. When plays are done mounted again after their original run, they must be re-created from the script up, no two productions should ever be interpreted the same. That’s an intrinsic need of the theatre, to always be fresh and alive.

  3. Sorry boys but you’re going to get a big disagree from me here.

    I don’t live in New York – I get to go there, maybe once every two years – why shouldn’t I get to see the great musicals and such in my home town. They’ve started touring plays too. I think August Osage County is touring – and it’s great to see the original directors (or his AD) hand at work. And of course there’s differences. I’ve seen four different Tevye’s in my life. I’ve seen Phantom four times and while the skeleton is still the same – of course there’s changes — you’re right that we are creating film in a sense – but why shouldn’t a show that has had a great director continue to have life. It’s impossible to believe that if you have one cast change you’re going to start all over (ie. just changing a couple of parts.)

  4. I’ll also just add that I think the actor’s job is to breathe life and feeling into whatever frame they’re given – true artists will be able to overcome such restriction, given the belief that genuine moments of discovery can still rise out of the routine.

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