What is Theatre

2

September 10, 2012 by raconteurmagazine

by Peter M. George

When we think of theatre, inevitably, we start by thinking of a grandiose building, with row upon row of plush seats, grand circles and side boxes, a wooden stage, with velvet curtains and warm lights everywhere.  Whilst that is a particularly commercial type of theatre, there are plenty of other styles and applications.

Everything can be considered theatre – as long as there is an audience. You may even be that audience. Theatre is every day – the conversations people have, the activities people get up to, anything that is an experience can be called theatre.

But to avoid the boohockey smeared degree level semantics, we’ll go to the font of all knowledge for a simpler version of what theatre is (beyond the aforementioned building – which is the primary definition in most dictionaries that I’ve encountered). To quote Wikipedia (my lecturers will be spinning in their skenes!), theatre is “a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place.” Bottom line is pretty much what I said – it is a form of art, wherein people view the performers.

So why then, do we find people trying to pigeonhole what theatre is? Saying ‘Theatre is always on a stage, with seats in front and wings to the sides’ is simply being ignorant (which I mean in its purest form of ignoring, not of stupidity). The ancient Greeks would claim ‘theatre is what is performed to us, with many tiers around it, the actors wearing masks’. Yet over to Brazil Augusto Boal would tell us ‘Theatre is a tool that we can use to generate positive thinking’. However, someone that likes to follow Dada may claim ‘Theatre is not there to make sense, but to create sense from the nonsensical through interpretation’. They are all correct and all wrong. They are merely types of theatre: genres, much like horror or romance in films – although theatre can obviously supply such trivialities (look at the clichéd Romeo & Juliet).

These different styles, and many more besides that I have not mentioned here, are what causes us to fail to define theatre. By its very nature, theatre is indefinable – possibly part of what makes it theatre is a lack of ability to solidly explain what exactly it is. To someone with no concept of viewing others, how would you explain theatre? Bear in mind that it is impossible to describe it as viewing something because we can view a painting – both are art, but how many non-theatre-students would describe a painting as theatre? You may describe it as entertainment, but so is a games console: again, that would not be called theatre.

The bottom line begins to get clearer the more we delve into the simple nature of the basics of theatre’s definition. I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what theatre is, but it seems to be best categorised by what it is’ although even that leaves a lot to be desired in relation to determining why it isn’t theatre. Before I turn your minds to mush and bore you with the tedium of repetition, I’ll leave you with one final thought and my own personal view of what theatre is. To me, it is the simple act of viewing something to experience it. As for the thought, think long deep and hard.

What is theatre… to you?

2 thoughts on “What is Theatre

  1. simonbrewis says:

    I would say that theatre can not be defined via audience as it is entirely possible to not realise that you are witnessing theatre. An obvious example being Boal’s Invisible Theatre… but a day to day example could be the things politicians do to make them appear more appealing to people they think may vote for them.

    I would argue that theatre is the deliberate and live act of performing a narrative for the benefit of another person or persons.

  2. I think you’ve misunderstood what I meant when saying there is an audience – the people involved need not be aware that they are an audience, but it doesn’t make them any less of one.

    I would counter-argue that theatre is merely an act which is viewed by someone – potentially, this could even be by the one that is performing said act. Theatre need not be deliberate and it certainly need not benefit another.

    But thank you for taking the time to read and to reply.

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