Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Friday, December 31, 2004


In response to ACD’s comments in last night’s post, I should try to explain what I mean by continuity of scale. All I mean is -- there are no close-ups in theater. The scale in which people appear is continuous.

Theater simultaneously brings stronger presence and greater distance between the actors and audience. Film has weaker presence but greater intimacy. I am not attempting a paradox. What I mean is this: The rich three-dimensionality of human presence occurs in theater but not in film, and yet, with its close-ups, film gives us a “warts and all” look at human beings.

As a result, actresses of 100 years ago like Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry could play ingenues and romantic roles into late middle age -- on the stage. In film, this is impossible.

In aesthetic terms, it is difficult for film to produce the goal of classical theater, which is the sensation of “larger than life,” because nothing can be more life-scale than an actor’s pores. The aesthetics of classical theater and its larger-than-life present-day stylistic descendants require this simultaneous greater presence and greater distance for its strongest effects to work.

Would love to hear comments on this question from any theater or film artists who may be reading.

Personal note: I did a lot of theater in my 20s. Wrote one full-length musical, a handful of short plays, and acted in a bunch of plays, mostly written by me and my friends in the wonderful, now 20-year-old Chicago troupe Theater Oobleck.

Elsewhere in blogville, Helen Radice of the blog twang twang twang gives an erudite and passionate defense of live performance here.

UPDATE: Further thoughts here.

I don't know if ACD has ever watch a play in which the audience and the actors were surprised in the same instant...I suspect that he hasn't.

The moment when your emotions and thoughts and entire experience are combined with another 200 people siting next to you, and with the actors on stage...the moment when you are talking with the stage and the stage is talking with you and for you, and to and for the other 200 people simultaneously...that instant when you are not alone in your reaction and your energy...that is the meat that no other art can offer...that is what we sink our teeth into.

Film, Television, Music, the writen word...they all can offer reaction...but only the theater can offer real communication in the instant of creation.

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