This weekend I watched a play that my cousin was in. Noises Off, it was called. My experience with plays is rather limited. A Shakespeare play here or there, but always in English class, where everyone is amateurs and very few students would voluntarily put a little ardor into their acting. Reading them just doesn’t suffice. It takes a certain sort of reader that is good at constructing a scene in their minds with very little information, just some lines of dialogue and a few vague, interpretable cues. Personally, I won’t be able to appreciate a play if I only read it. I won’t understand the plot, I won’t recognize the key events. Watching however, is a totally different experience.
Thespians. This year, we had an extremely strong cast of seniors, and Noises Off was the spring play. I also happened to watch it on a Saturday night, the last night a play is typically performed at our school, which meant that this was the very last play of their high school careers. All four years of their acting, all those long nights of practice and execution had come to this. Granted, lots of extracurricular activities also carry out like this but I don’t watch plays very often, and this one seemed to stand out.
Very rarely can high schoolers act so well that I actually laugh out loud. However, this group of people succeeded! The play was written to be very disorderly, so messily so that I couldn’t believe none of it was improv. It was phenomenal. Regardless of this particular play, I have come to a seemingly insignificant, yet all the more enlightening realization about theatre arts.
It’s a one time only sort of phenomenon. How many times can you watch a play? One of the most challenging aspects for the performers is not to get that one frustrating “act” or “scene” correct during the technical, or the dress rehearsal. It’s more about perfect execution THE NIGHT OF. Whenever there’s an audience to impress,the pressure is always on.
How many times can you watch a play? Well, a video taping doesn’t really suffice, does it? The audience has already been laughed and cried, and thus, when you watch it, the natural reflex won’t come. At the least, this is my experience when watching pre-recorded performances
The thing about plays is that so much effort goes into every single production that they are so extremely hard to recreate. You’d have to have a vast imagination to overcome the lack of props, scenery, and lighting. Of course, they managed to do that back when Shakespeare created his masterpieces, but I feel that since then, we as humans have come to rely on objects and false lighting to construct a setting. While this may be disadvantageous in a sense, I think it’s a fact to accept, a reality that is unlikely to be reversed.
When you’re at a party and you meet a violin player, you can urge them to perform a piece and it’s easy as pie. They can call their buddies up and go grab their instrument out of their car and in minutes, a makeshift chamber group has been assembled. They can play a whole piece beginning to end.
A singer needs nothing but his or her voice, and maybe a microphone. They can easily finish an entire ballad before you have to scramble to find props or equipment of some sort.
You ask a theatre kid to perform a little skit, and it’s relatively simple as well. A snippet of their favorite scene? Easily done. But you ask them to perform the whole play, or even an act, and it’s much harder to accomplish, no? If it’s a monologue, this might be more realistic but in general, you tend to need other experienced and well-versed actors, lighting, scenery, or props, at the least. Obviously this isn’t impossible to pull off but it’s a whole lot harder. People aren’t as willing to gather material and sit through a performance if they’re imagination isn’t comfortable creating the rest of the magical ambiance. Thus, it is important to acknowledge the complexity of recreating theatrical performances, and it is all the more essential to realize that going to see a play is a privileged experience. We should enjoy it when we can and savor the performance while we can, because these actors are sweating, screaming, and jumping around stage to make us smile and laugh.