12 August 2015
I have been filled with horror at the experience Benedict Cumberbatch is going through in Hamlet. The reason someone filming you is so disturbing is not just because of the little red lights waving around the theatre but because of the fundamental disconnection it creates between you and the person filming you.
Acting is a conversation between the actors and the audience – it is fundamental to the act of theatre. The relationship between the actor and the audience shapes and dictates every moment of the show. So when someone starts filming you. they have opted out of the conversation. They are no longer listening, experiencing, partaking in the event - they are sitting outside of the experience and their red lights telegraph that to the actors on stage.
It is why I am so against digital transmissions of live shows – the terrible and misguided legacy of Nicholas Hytner, now copied by other theatre managements who seem oblivious to what theatre is actually about. An audience watching these shows cannot interact with the actors and the actors cannot see them. It has nothing to do with theatre and should never be described as a theatrical experience.
Theatre is a unique experience because it is live. You cannot replicate that through a transmission of any kind. The audience have to be present – more than that, they have to partake. The audience member who sits slumped in his seat and says “entertain me” misunderstands his/her role in the event. You have to ‘be present’. It’s what makes an audience so exciting – such a living, breathing and hugely complex entity. How is it that a group of a thousand strangers can enter a theatre and suddenly come together as one audience? It’s a mystery that makes theatre so compelling and it’s why no two performances are ever the same.
In a world where everything is becoming digitised, we must keep theatre live. It’s a priceless and fundamental part of our art. We will lose it at our peril.
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