There really is a difference between theatre and the theatre. That may sound like a critic trying to be smart. It may also sound like a theatre writer trying to fill column space after not seeing a (theatre) show this week. Both assessments may be right. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that there really is a difference between theatre and the theatre.
They are not by any means strangers to each other, nor are they inseparable. Theatre sometimes can be found in the theatre, but it can also sometimes be found outside of it, pretty much anywhere. The theatre can offer up theatre, but not always. Sometimes it offers only itself, the theatre.
Just one way to do it
Before you think I’m only talking about the difference between an art form and a building or room designed to house it (pretty cheap excuse for a column, huh) allow me to clarify. When I say the theatre, I don’t just mean the stage, but also all that surrounds it: the curtains, the lights, costumes and what’s backstage as well.
I’m talking about the theatre as an institution, as a tradition, as a business and as a scene. It functions quite well as all of those and has done so for centuries, so well in fact that many people think that the theatre is in fact theatre. Well, it’s not.
Theatre is a living, breathing force. It is a shape-shifting animal that grows and shrinks depending on its environment. It doesn’t need a stage, doesn’t need a muted audience, doesn’t need a script and doesn’t need a theory. An idea of what theatre should be is merely an option or one way it can be. The theatre is merely one home theatre can inhabit, the streets work just as well, as do other places.
Theatre is an expressive animal, it doesn’t matter what mood it’s in or what temperment it has. Whether it is loud and boisterous or quiet and docile, it always has something to say. It never needs the trappings of the theatre to say it, it only needs its own inspiration.
The theatre risks becoming boring, old and repetitive and too steeped in tradition or tied to cliques for its own good. Theatre on the other hand is always young and vibrant no matter who’s doing it. This is because it is always live and ever-changing. Theatre is never the same.
While theatre doesn’t need the theatre to survive, the reverse, sadly, is also true. This can unfortunately lead to people not inspired by the theatre to think that theatre has let them down as well.
That said, I’m going out to the theatre this week. I’ll let you know next week if I was fortunate enough to experience theatre as well.