Why theatre will never die

After a brief absence to put his company on the rails, Matt Slaybaugh of Theatreforte returns to the theatre blogoshere with a bang. Yesterday he quoted Simon McBurney on naturalism in the theatre, in a piece that is simply the best articulated essay on the uniqueness of the form that I think I’ve ever read. It speaks to why it only works in space shared between players and observers. And also why theatre should never, ever, be put to film. It’s a splendid treatise, for me it’s one of those pieces of ephemera that float around the internet that you wish you’d written. A sampling…

In the end the only question in the theatre is: How does the play become alive? In fact, theatre only exists in the mind of the audience – it does not exist on stage, or in a play. It only exists because the audience brings it alive.

Everyone thought theatre would die with the appearance of cinema, just as everyone thought painting would die with the appearance of photography. But all photography did was to liberate painting to be itself.

[…] That’s why theatre can’t work on video. It’s an imaginative act on the part of the audience. And that is theatre’s appeal, that’s why it continues.

Please click here to read the full piece from McBurney. Then click here to meet Slay, face to face. The theatrosphere rules.


  1. Wow. That was better than caffeine. Makes me want to run out into the street and shout for theatre. Instead I’ll pump my cyber fists into the air. Whoo!

    It’s so true isn’t it? I talk about this with students all the time – the circle of energy that only happens in the theatre – when what’s happening on stage comes out in to the audience and the reaction of the audience gets thrown back onto the stage.

    That’s what makes theatre great. That’s why the economy slides into ruin, when everything crumbles to the ground, and companies fold and Broadway is dark, theatre will never die. I love that.

  2. Awesome Lindsay, that’s exactly how I feel! It’s a great age to be a theatre artist, isn’t it? There’s a new day dawning…

  3. What a great inspiration to wake up to this morning!

    It reminds me why one of my qualifications to get onto my top theatre shows list is that it “does what only theatre can do, well.”

    When theatre remembers that it is theatre and that it has the ability to take something from the ordinary to the extraordinary by using outside of its normal use, it moves (for me) to a new level.

    One of my recent examples of this was the production of Peer Gynt by Blackbird a couple of years ago. The moment they created the ocean with the furling blue fabric was magical.

    I have been told that Tempting Providence is another great example of this.

    *Deep breath* It’s a good day to be a theatre artist!

  4. Too true, SMLois. I find it kind of sad when I see theatre trying to be cinema. Why? Because it’s what the ‘new generation’ is conditioned to respond to? Because they won’t ‘get’ theatrical forms?

    Yeah, that’s always a good idea, treat your audience like they’re dumb. You can’t miss.

  5. That’s why this perhaps isn’t such a bad time in theatre. Those who think their audiences are dumb will fade away. Hopefully.

    I see that bizarre mentality all the time in schools – people who are supposed to be there for students, and help students, and yet don’t actually like students. At all. Crazy.

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