Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Powerful Medium

Picture a stage; an empty stage. There are no lights, no sounds, and no people; there is nothing, but a stage. Now picture yourself in best evening attire sitting in the audience. All you can do is sit and watch the stage, but as you sit there confused, you see that there is nothing there to watch. The art of theatre is bringing that empty stage to life with an alternate reality filled with lights, costumes, sound, and of course, actors. With all these elements a story is created that the audience can follow or be perplexed by.
To understand part of the magic of the theatre it is important to know a bit about its history. Theatre has been around for thousands of years. It started out as story-telling for ancient cultures such as the Greeks. They used masks to depict emotions and the characters that they were playing. During this time theatre in the round was born. Hundreds of years later in Europe the art of theatre became a form of entertainment for royalties who sat in the balconies and peasants who stood on the dirty ground. A good example comes from the time of the famous William Shakespeare and the not-so-well-known Christopher Marlow. The Globe Theatre was the place to watch most of Shakespeare’s plays. It was a circular open building where, as I said the peasants were forced to watch the plays from the dirty ground while the royalties and noblemen sat up in the balconies and watched the performance. During this time all roles, including women’s roles were played by men. Also during this time, the term “peanut gallery” was invented. It was a place up in the balconies where people would throw peanuts if they did not like the performance. These seats were also very inexpensive. Following the Shakespearian years theatre bloomed into a more main-stream form of entertainment. The development of Broadway in the early 1920s and 1930s also brought a new wave of entertainment in the form of musicals. Without theatre the development of movies and television would not have happened. Theatre was basically responsible for developing the popular forms of entertainment people across the world enjoy today.
Though the history of theatre is very important, there is also one element that theatre absolutely can not do without: actors. Actors are a very large part of what makes the theatre so magical. The most important part of acting is that the actors have no limits and neither does the stage they perform on; anything goes in the theatre. Some character may have an elaborate, yet beautiful looking suicide at the end of the play. Another character may have can sing about the man she fell in love with who loves her sister while her best friend actually loves her, but she is too clueless to see it. Plays aren’t just broken into musicals, comedies, tragedies, dramas, and Serio-comedies; they are broken down into actual stories that the audience can interpret. Each play usually has one or more main characters that the audience can sympathize with or watch grow. Somehow by the end of the play the main character(s) grow in some way or something very significant happens in their life that makes them realize how they took something or someone for granted. The way that a play ends usually depends on the genre. For example, if the play is a tragedy, the play usually ends with death; if the play is a comedy then the play usually has a happy ending where, as things happen in Shakespeare, everyone gets married.
There is also one more thing that makes theatre so important. This is called the “fourth wall.” Breaking the fourth wall violates the unwritten rules of performance in theatre. The fourth wall is the wall that the audience can not cross. If, for example, you go out into the audience and have a conversation with one of the patrons, or you even make eye contact for a long period of time you are breaking the fourth wall. What makes this wall so powerful is that it sucks in the audience. Though the audience realizes that that they are in a real theatre watching real people put on a show, they somehow get sucked into the story emotionally, though their perception of reality is still avid. When the fourth wall is broken the audience doesn’t feel those emotions anymore. The common feeling is, “Oh, these people are putting on a play. How nice.”
Without all of these elements the theatre has no magic. The real magic comes from what the actors do to make the audience experience real emotions from the performance they do. Somehow the story becomes real and the audience is somehow involved, though they aren’t part of the actual production. Theatre is such a powerful medium because, not only can it entertain the audience who watches it, but it makes what they are watching seem real. We may not realize it now, but without theatre our history would not be the same.

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