On Political Theatre vs. Political Theatrics and What Theater Is Good For (Why We Need It – Or Do We?)

A student alerted me to this news analysis in The Washington Post last week, suggesting that President Barack Obama was dismissive of the art of political theater.

“…minutes after delivering a statement proclaiming himself “heartbroken” over the execution of journalist James Foley by the Islamic State, Obama went out and played a round of golf on Martha’s Vineyard. On Sunday, in an interview with Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press”, Obama came close to acknowledging that that decision had been a mistake. He said (in part): “I should’ve anticipated the optics. Part of this job is also the theater of it….it’s not always something that comes naturally to me. But it matters.”

Barack Obama
I posted the link on my facebook page [friend me if you like]. The article spawned 280 comments on The Post website (not unusual) and a bunch of erudite reflections on my wall (also not unusual). Here’s a flavor of the debate:

Stephanie… “It’s true. He is so intelligent in many ways, but is tone-deaf when it comes to “optics”. I think this quote goes further than “close to acknowledging”–to my ear, it is definitely an apology. I can just see the daily schedule by which our presidents live, and how they go on autopilot following what it dictates.”

Ari… “Thanks for this reflection, Stephanie. Here’s the thing for all of us who believe in the integrity of theater to contemplate: Is the press and Obama himself suggesting in their use of the term “theater,” that the art form is full of empty gesture; worse, a deception? Bill Clinton loved–and loves–the theater of politics; he happens to be a master at it. Obama, in defining himself in contrast to the Clintons, purposely rejected what he considered empty acts that might look good but ultimately accomplished little to nothing…. On the other hand, he does concede that ‘It matters.’ Theatrics matter. Now the question is why and how?”

David… “I relate his citing ‘the theater of it’ to the term optics. Optics, to me, does imply a certain emptiness, in that it is referring explicitly to how a particular act looks. When you add that to the euphemism “political theater” – which is almost exclusively used as a pejorative judgement of something which is intended only to look a certain way, but not really be committed to what it is showing–then, yeah, I think the word theater is being used to imply hypocrisy in the most negative sense. Certainly nothing to do with integrity. The message that he seems to be sending here is to forget about whether the president, after proclaiming his heart to be broken, wanted to go play a round of golf. The gaff was that he actually let people see him do it.

Steven… I think the [Walter] Benjaminian distinction between “a politicization of aesthetics” (Agitprop) and the “aestheticization of politics” (Fascism) helps clarify the problem here. Neither of those two options is really good for the soul or the polis. And that is why criticizing the idea of “political theater” is fair enough as far as I am concerned–just as using theater entirely for spreading the regime’s/party’s propaganda would be enslaving theater to an inappropriate end. We need a responsible, truth-seeking and -seeing approach in both realms, and not an illegitimate conflation of them–which is what Obama dislikes, I assume. Which is not, however, to condemn the LEGITIMATE combination of the two (such as the Inauguration events in 2009).

Ari… “pretty brilliant, Steven. I think I could build a course off that little paragraph of yours…”

Steven… “Very nice of you to say, Ari–anytime you want to do a course together on theatre (theater?) and politics.”

Stephanie… There is also a difference between theatre and the theatrics of politics, isn’t there? In Hillary’s review of Kissinger’s new book, she veers away from reviewing the book to essentially bragging that HE routinely “checked in” with HER instead of just saying that they kept in touch. To me, this was bad “optics”– why not show him some respect if the review says he marks the right path for our future??? It really hit me wrong. “Terrible political actor” refers to the political antennae Obama seems to be missing and has little to do with theatre, I would argue…

Have it, folks!

And feel free to respond, alternately, to these two thought-provoking articles on the purpose of theater; the efficacy of it to the individual and/or to society? How does theater change us?

There’s this piece by the great playwright, Richard Nelson, author of the Apple Family plays (seen by students last season at Studio Theatre) who write on “the Peculiar Nature of Theatre”—”What’s a play for? Not to change the world, but to replicate the intricate workings of the human heart.” Can that change the world? Can theater? Let’s discuss!

There’s also this, reflecting on the challenge of getting people out to the theater. What to make realistically of theater’s role in society today? The important critic (and SATCHMO AT THE WALDORF playwright) Terry Teachout discusses “How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset.” “What’s gone wrong with theater?” he asks. What’s going right with it here in DC?

Finally, there’s the brilliant theater scholar Jill Dolan and her tour de force treatise “Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater” We’re reading excerpts from it. I’m gonna buy me the entire book right now (but not necessarily on Amazon)!
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46 thoughts on “On Political Theatre vs. Political Theatrics and What Theater Is Good For (Why We Need It – Or Do We?)

  1. The recent article by Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post entitled, President Obama has always been a terrible political actor, explored Obama’s unwillingness to publicly exhibit the empathy he has felt in various circumstances. Whether or not President Obama should physically embrace constituents who face troubles, something the article suggests could bolster his image, is irrelevant, I believe. He should begin to embrace folks if he is compelled to do, not because journalists or public relations people believe it will make him look good.

    There is an authenticity factor that should be calculated. If an embrace or sign of empathy is not sincere, it could be worse for his image. With that said, public perception does matter and he should be mindful (i.e. not going to golf when the nation faces a tragedy) while maintaining his most authentic self. Authenticity is something that comes to mind when I think about theater, particularly when it is compared to other forms of entertainment such as television or movies.

    In Terry Teachout’s article, How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset, he presents what seems to be an ongoing question in the theater community: how do we get more people in our seats when people can stream movies and shows at home? I was not someone who went to plays or musicals growing up and I believe establishing that behavior early on for a person is significant because it can lead them to becoming more avid theater-goers as they grow up, which means it can also lead them to be donors.

    I know programs exist for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to attend theater across the country, and I think that is an important way to not only augment theater attendance, but also make it more diverse and inclusive. One of the unique things about theater is that it is more authentic than what you find on television or in movies, which still maintains an air of magic unique unto it.

    • I want to further expand upon what Juan brings up about the “authenticity” of theater and the political theater. While I do agree that Obama should not overact into a false level of sincerity just for the sake of his image – as Ari highlights with Hamlet with the “[overstepping] not the modesty of nature” – it does seem the public almost requires this of our political leaders. Their mannerisms, rather than being their own, are somewhat like their votes for policies in that they are to reflect what the people want, not necessarily how the politician individually thinks. It could, however, be argued that the individual politician is elected to serve as just a representative of the people’s interests and, therefore, his/her individual mannerisms are his/her own. Bringing this back to actual theater, the same can be debated about actors. Should actors strive to fully inhabit a character the way it is presented, or should the actor take some liberty with the role and make it his/her own? Admittedly, I don’t think either extreme is beneficial, just as I would say with politicians; however, there is a line of authenticity or how organic one’s actions are. How do you find a balance between being organic and giving people/your critics what they want? Surely, politicians answer in a different way than actors (elections), but on the same note, actors also must be reelected in a way to take on another role in a different work. Is authenticity, then, determined by the individual or by the masses?

  2. Ari : In connection with this matter of the relation between ” theater ” and ” the political “, we may wish to refresh our memories of yesteryear and reread Hamlet’s speech to the Players. In that speech about what serious theater should be doing, Hamlet teaches that ” the purpose of playing ” is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature ; to show virtue her own image, scorn her own feature, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure “. I submit that the final part of this statement can properly be interpreted as defining what we, today, would call ” political “, in the most noble sense of the word : the affairs of men and women when they gather to form communities, cities and nations.

    Yours, Roger Bensky

  3. POST-SCRIPTUM : As for a more contemporary take on the matter, European playwrights, directors, actors and audiences would opine that theater is ” political ” in the best sense when a play truly problematizes the themes and images it presents, poking holes in anything too seamless so that the spectator, having had his/her certainties destabilized, possibly destroyed,, has to leave the theater with new questions, or old questions which now have new contexts. To sum it up, it’s the Brechtian appeal to turn the familiar into the unknown, so that nothing dehumanizing or oppressive should ever again seem self-evident.

    • Roger, so great to have you joining our “Theater of Politics and The Politics of Theater” class! As a brilliant professor over at Georgetown University (albeit recently stepping back a bit to retire a tad), we give you full license to drop into this forum and preach, teach, and lay on references, sources and footnotes! Your referencing Act 3, Scene 2 of HAMLET sets us up beautifully to consider the purpose of drama, and even speaks to our classmate Juan’s conversation opener, stressing the importance of “authenticity” to the theatrical experience. Let’s consider further Hamlet’s advice to the Players: “Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of the which one must in your allowance o’erweigh a whole theatre of others.” Shakespeare striving for a passionate (“not too tame”) naturalism of expression; Obama striving for something similar? (always informed by “discretion” – who can forget the campaign moniker, “No Drama Obama?”)

  4. Thank you, Ari, for that welcome and for displaying at greater length the speech to the Players. Had Obama ever studied that script to inform his own public performances ? I know not, any more than I truly know in the present tenebrous environment conjoining politics and the media where theatrics cease and where true theater begins. One thing I do know is that unlike mediatic oversimplications, Hamlet’s vision of the well-disciplined actor quickly becomes a two-edged sword when the head Player mutates on the spot into the passion of Hecuba, a passion so powerfully deployed that Hamlet becomes ashamed of his own inability to revenge his ghostly father. The connection between Hecuba and Obama ? That part of the script may be a forgery or else it has yet to be written …

  5. In trying to answer the question, “What is theater good for?,” I reflect upon the intimacy described in Teachout’s article, “How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset.” The Internet has made available largely anything one could ask for, whether it is movies, TV shows, or yes, even plays, as Teachout describes. More than this though, the Internet allows all of these things to be viewed from the comfort of your home in your sweatpants on your couch. To be honest, as a more introverted college student, I find this to be a very attractive option when deciding how I’m going to get my weekly dose of arts.

    However, something that Netflix or the TV screen does not provide is the intimate connection one feels when they are sitting in the house of a theater watching drama unfold on stage. You see all of the triumphant moments like when a cast has a terrific and fluid performance. You can see and feel their emotions in the way they interact with each other on stage. And, you also see the blunders, such as when an actor forgets his/her line or when a light cue is missed. All of these moments, both good and slightly nerve-wracking, are real, human reactions and are of the substance that you cannot get out of watching Netflix on your laptop. They make you feel not only connected to the actors on stage, but also connected to your fellow theater-going companions. After all, you become a special part of a group who are the only people to see THIS play on THIS day at THIS time. It’s something special. I remember reading an article about a year ago that said something along the lines of watching theater is the same as exercising your “empathy muscles.” You almost feel like you are on stage with the actors as you become so invested in watching the play and feeling the valid emotions in response to the action.

    Teachout mentions that theaters should think about ways in which they can increase this intimacy setting, such as creating smaller auditoriums and spaces that allow theatergoers to be right in front of the action on stage. I definitely agree with this notion. The times where I am so close to the stage that I can almost feel the sweat of the actors are the plays I generally walk away from with the most insight and general “feel-good” feelings. Another way to increase the intimacy is hosting more after-production panels with the directors and actors. For instance, when I saw “Yentl” at Theater J and then had the opportunity to speak with the cast members right afterwards, I felt even more connected to the production because I was able to ask them questions and get their take on everything from rehearsing the play to closing the curtain. I am not sure how often theaters already do this to facilitate audience to actors conversations, but it is certainly something that has helped me feel more invested in the play-going experience.

    • Timothy, I wanted to respond to your comment about the intimacy of seeing a play or musical unfold before you and feeling connected to what is physically happening before you as an audience member. Though I agree that theater can be a much more intimate than watching a movie or Netflix, I believe if an audience member is unable to connect with characters, the intimacy loses a dimension. This made me think that perhaps when people go to watch theater, those who do not return to watch shows do so because they weren’t going to the right kind of show to begin with. Maybe there needs to be a way for people to better navigate which shows to see and by which companies to get them more interested in theater.

    • Timothy,
      I enjoyed reading your response to Teachout’s article because you added several other insights about why live theater is such a different experience than watching television or movies from home. I’ve never considered the ability to see people’s mistakes, as you can only in a live performance, as a positive characteristic of plays. But, as you mentioned, these faults are what make plays “real” as they bring out the imperfect nature of human beings. I would add to your suggestions about increasing the intimacy of theater performances by encouraging the formation of small, local theater-going groups of people who share a common interest in attending plays and musicals. I’m not sure if clubs like this already exist in many communities, but I think that these sorts of close-knit groups would increase the connection that people feel with the audience members as well as encourage group discussion about the plays afterwards.

  6. Richard Nelson, in his article “On the Peculiar Nature of Theatre,” sparked how I want to discuss the topic of Obama and political theatre with his observation that, “theatre at its essence is…not a political platform for change…[but] theatre at its essence is simply a kind of relationship.” With that said, jump to Chris Cillizza’s “President Obama has always been a terrible political actor.”

    When I first read Cillizza, I asked myself why Obama would need to buy into political theatre; couldn’t he just reject it in favor of relying on “deeds not words” and supplant our political system that seems overtaken by empty promises? If we take Nelson’s conclusion and apply it to Obama’s case, perhaps the need for Obama to play into the politics of theatre – despite it being against his nature or seeming contrived – is to establish relationships between him and the American people. If theatre fosters connections between strangers, perhaps political theatre is necessary to bond Americans through a solid interpretation of the character of their President. If Obama were to stick to speeches, rhetoric, and actions, perhaps this isn’t enough to sustain the intimate relationship Americans want to feel with their President, where they feel their daily lives, wants and beliefs matter, and ultimately have the power to influence national policy. The politics of theatre, such as the moment in Iowa in 2007, would dictate that Obama, like Bill Clinton, would go and comfort the woman distraught by her father’s deployment at forum, not to necessarily fit the sympathetic Presidential role, but rather to show a willingness and compassion to connect with a suffering American. That action would then ripple through American society, where other Americans would feel that if they had been the ones to stand up at the forum, Obama would have comforted them, too, and that feeling of imagined intimacy translates to real feelings of intimacy between Americans and their President.

    Similar to Cillizza’s comment that “how things look can…influence how things are,” Obama’s connections with one or two Americans often represent how Obama connects with the entire American public. Obama then “acting” and effectively buying into political theatre seems to be a bit of a misnomer, especially if we see his actions as less acting and more of creating examples of his intimacy with his country’s people. He isn’t playing a character or a part, but rather attempting to showcase his true personality in the small, appropriate spaces available to him.

    • Layne,
      I really enjoy your last sentence of your post in which you question the whole idea of “political acting” and posit instead that President Obama is simply showcasing his personality in “small, appropriate spaces.” I completely agree with this. Yes, some politicians may very well act or put on a show to give what they think the American people want to hear and/or see. However, I think we wouldn’t be giving ourselves enough credit as intelligent human beings if we assume that collectively we can so easily be fooled by insincere actions of politicians. Maybe for a little bit we can be charmed, but I believe we would eventually catch on to this supposed “acting.” This is precisely why I agree with you that Obama is simply showcasing his personality. Cillizza even points out in the article that contrary to Bill Clinton, Obama tends to be more introverted. As an introvert myself, we tend to seek out these “small, appropriate spaces” to showcase who we are instead of making a huge to-do, like some extroverts are known to do. Maybe this is off-putting to the American public at first since the Office of President is the grandest affair in the land which inherently suggests a more “wear your personality on your sleeve” type attitude. However, we see and learn more about who President Obama actually is based on his more introverted response. It’s not that he is any less compassionate than President Clinton is; he chooses to show it a different, yet completely valid, way.

      • Layne — I appreciate the way you framed the idea of political theater, and specifically the act of physically connecting with an individual, as an example of a politician creating a connection with the country as a whole. Personally, I’ve never felt that way when watching a politician connect with people in person, but I would question it’s absence. I never actually believe that it was their idea or an act that is truly genuine, but if it didn’t happen I would write that person off as unfeeling or unwilling to play along.

        I find it interesting that we expect these people — who have, honestly, more important things to do — to play this game that nobody fully buys into. It’s almost a damned if they do, damned if they don’t situation, but it plays a significant role in making or brewing a political figure.

  7. In answering the question “What’s a play for?” I found Richard Nelson’s insights on the purpose of theatre and the issues he grapples with very closely aligned with my own opinions.

    What I found resonated with me the most and speaks the closest to the relationship I feel with theatre is that “theatre at its essence is simply a kind of relationship” in which we are able to “know ourselves.” I can trace my exploration of emotion and my understanding of the human experience through the plays I have watched. There are many plays I can think of that have given me an insight into who we are as a society and one of the most recent ones I can think of is the play Tribes by Nina Raine which I saw at Berkeley Rep this past season. The play is about a dysfunctional Jewish British family with a deaf son who has no knowledge of sign language. I saw the play as an exploration of not only family and the communities we build for ourselves and struggle to be a part of but also a serious look at how we as people communicate with one another through language, through emotions, and through life experiences. I found myself in tears by curtain as I felt the emotional weight of a family who had never figured out how to express love to one another and an understanding of the importance than an individuals’ values, belief, and language.

    I’ve had similar, very deep emotional experiences whenever I see a powerful, well done play which is why I do believe that the main purpose of theatre is to “convey back the world to an audience in ways to make them understand it.”

    In response to the issue Nelson brings up about theatre giving something back to the community, to me the simple existence of theater is what gives back. The fact that anyone of any age can participate in theater as an audience member or a performer allows them to discover not only their artistic nature but also their sense empathy. Because, as Nelson writes, “art is an end in itself” and what it does give to the community that it serves is a “soul-defining” experience that helps every individual make a connection with the performers and the story and come to their own realization that “we are not alone.”

    • Molly I found your blog comment to depict exactly how I feel about theater. I think that it is definitely a way to explore emotions and the understandings we have of society at large. I also think that it allows us to explore how society can be. It allows us to ask what ifs and whys? Without “actually” challenging the current-day society. I think that theater is a way for people to relieve themselves of potential stressors in their life and escape reality in a healthy manner instead of turning to negative escapes. This is what theater gives back to society. An escape from the stress of everyday reality. I really enjoyed the emotional appeal throughout your post. Great job!

  8. I want to focus on the article about the “Stay at Home Mindset” because I believe that many people I know, especially young people and myself included, have adapted this sort of framework. As the author Terry Teachout notes, play and musical attendance has dropped significantly in the past 10 years. This likely occurs because people today are more likely to stay at home and watch cable or Netflix instead of going out to the theater. Teachout mentions that a part of the problem might be the high price of tickets to Broadway shows. Contrary to the article, however, I feel like this is probably true for theater performances across the country as well. High prices of theater performances might have something to do with lower play-going rates, especially when you compare them to the low cost of streaming movies nowadays on your television or laptop (i.e. the stay at home mindset).
    Teachout argues that quality hasn’t gone down, but that people now experience what he calls an “on-demand mentality.” It is obvious that the use of new media, especially by young adults, is increasing. However, only a small percentage of adults use new media to watch stage plays or musicals online. Teachout’s article mentions how PBS is creating a television show to tape live theater performances, but this is not nearly the same as experiencing a play in person! (which is how theater was designed, after all). I don’t go to plays all that often, so I know how the “immediate physical presence of flesh-and-blood actors” can have a huge impact on the experience of a production. Teachout describes this as an “intense(ness)” that can only be experienced in a live performance, like when the actors walk through the aisles. This engagement with the audience (when I am a member of it) makes me really feel like I’m there and present in the story, and it can’t even compare to watching a movie at home.
    What stood out to me from the article on the “Peculiar Nature of Theatre” by Richard Nelson was this same idea – that theater makes us feel present. Nelson discusses the importance of theater as an “intimate human relationship” between actor and audience, and that the complexity of the human heart is the essence of this relationship. Nelson believes that we might be seeking in theater something that we are missing from our own lives – being in the present (at least, the way I interpreted it). This is because the event of theater is a firsthand experience, and this type of experience is becoming much more rare these days (through the internet, smart phones, etc). I think that people today are too caught up in new technologies and don’t remember these experiences that live acting performances can bring.

    • Genny,
      I want to comment on what you said about new media and theater. While I agree that it is not the same of watching a live performance in person, I believe there is an audience of adults who would use new media to watch plays or musicals online and there is a demand for the PBS television. Due to the high cost of tickets and the fact that not everyone lives near Broadway or can afford a trip, there is a huge online community of “bootleg” musicals. There is a large trading and sharing system of people who record their own video or even audios of shows and either post them on youtube for the public to watch or trade the files with other people who have a recording of a show they want. I even admit to wanting to desperately to watch a show I know I won’t get to see on Broadway that I’ll find a low-quality youtube video taken from the back of the balcony and watch the entire thing. So I think there is a demand for theater to be made available through new media and I think you are still able to appreciate the art of the set and costumes and feel a connection with the story and performers.

  9. I read the article How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset and this is what influenced my blog post for this week.

    I think that one thing the theater is GREAT at doing is perfectly depicted by Terry Teachout. Theater is capable of creating an ambience where “suddenly the outside world vanishes and you’re swept into a parallel universe of excitement and adventure, poetry and magic, fear and hope.” Theater creates a “thrilling intimacy of its productions.” I think that this is what theater-going is good for. Not to mention it forces our technologically advanced generation to ignore technology and actually interact. Theater is an experience unlike anything that Netflix or TV can provide in some essences. Just as viewing a concert in person is significantly more entertaining, in some degrees, than going to Youtube and watching the same concert.

    I believe that one of the biggest challenges surrounding the theater world is that theater is facing a downward spiral in the interest of today’s youth. Prior to coming to Washington D.C. I have never viewed a play, nor would I have, had it not been for the restrictions placed by the Michigan in Washington program and the Politics of Theater course. This is not to say that I did not want to, but it was not something that crossed my mind. Is it due to the “on-demand entertainment” Teachout discusses? Or simply because I come from a background that has not been capable of funding or finding the means of transportation to attend the theater? I cannot say for certain.

    What I will say is that it is a unique experience that TV, Netflix, and movies cannot adequately capture exactly. However, what TV, Netflix, and movies have in common with theater is the emotional appeal of transporting the audience to a parallel universe. The characters in movies and TV programs, if the writer adequately portrays them, become a part of who we are as an audience. We become invested in their journey and want success for good people and failure for others. This is exactly what the theater has offered for me– a chance to escape into another reality and invest my hope, joy, and sorrow into the plays. But I expect something more than that. Sure, theater can become intimate, unlike TV, Netflix, and movies, but what else? What is the next level of entertainment? Potentially interactive plays? Seats that shake as if you were traveling along with the characters as they travel? Sprays a mist of water if a character bathes, washes their face, ect? These are things that will intrigue youth to go to the theater.

    We already sit in classes and get lectured and have to listen to everything our parents say. Why do you think virtual reality is such a huge deal? People want to have activity in their alternate universe. Theater takes us to another universe, but doesn’t allow us to be active within it.

    • James, i really appreciate your comment and insight because i feel like you took my thoughts and added specificity to them. I think the issue here is that theater seems not to have needed grand advertisement to attract people, but now things have changed. The youth of this generation(and honestly, anyone at all) need bigger motivations to leave the comfort and convenience of art consumption within the confines of the home. While it might take a while to add the more animated features to theater, i agree that there needs to be an upped sense of entertainment in theatrical productions. This speaks to the idea of incentivizing theater, which i talked about in my post. It isn’t that people don’t like theater, they just won’t really go out of their way to find it in place of convenience. My question now, though, is how theaters can go about upping the entertainment and incentivizing without risking the loss of even more money. I think it would be hard to venture into this area, but from where i stand, it seems like it would all be worth it in the long- run.

  10. I had not seen a musical or play in over a year before starting the “Theatre of Politics” class. While I had always loved attending plays and musicals in high school, I stopped making an effort to see them in college. As Terry Teachout discusses in “How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset”, it is difficult to attract an audience to the theatre in the presence of TV and the internet. Because young people are constantly surrounded with technology, it is hard to convince them to break free from the all-consuming semi-virtual world and attend a live play or musical. I agree with Teachout’s suggestion that the way to attract an audience is through stressing not the grandeur of the play, but its intimacy. You can achieve the overly-excited dramas of a story through television, but in no way, shape, ore form can you achieve the same intimacy. Intimacy cannot be reached through a computer screen or television in nearly the same way that it can through a live performance. This has been the biggest part of my fascination and my enjoyment of the plays we have seen as a class thus far. When you can see the expressions of the audience around you and you can feel the emotions, stresses, joys, sorrows, and excitements of the actor facing you, you are able to view and participate in a story in a much different way than you can facing a screen. You enter a world shared by the audience and the actors that throughout the play ebbs and flows as the story progresses. It is this dynamic that makes theatre great and it is exactly this dynamic that is missed by so many who chose television and internet over live performance and art.

    In order to maintain this dynamic, as we have seen through the article about President Obama’s failed theatrics, it is important to uncover and present something truthful. When one tries to fabricate a story or puts on a façade for sake of a story, the relationship between the actor and the audience and the artist and the audience shatters. As Richard Nelson explains in “On the Peculiar Nature of Theatre”, one errs when arguing for a normative goal or cause for art. Theatre and art in general should be a medium through which an audience can interact. Through the interaction of an audience, the play gains significance and importance. As Nelson explains theatre is “The fact of showing man to man. Nothing more. Nothing less. The fact of theatre.” Theatre should not aim to instill something in an audience. Rather, it should aim to stimulate an experience for the audience, one that may further discussion and thought. Plays, such as Yentl, do not force ideas or thoughts on the audience. Instead, the plays create a shared experience for the audience. This shared experience creates an intimate and closed, yet vibrant and multifaceted environment in which one is forced to think and forced to confront issues. A computer or TV screen simply cannot create this environment. That is why theatre is so important for our discussions of politics. While we can all read the news and watch it on TV, nothing forces us to confront the issues on the news more than sitting in an audience in a closed theatre, free of distractions. Theatre is the perfect environment to create a lively discussion and to start debates. I have greatly enjoyed this side of the theatre so far and I am looking forward to seeing what new thoughts and debates come from the next plays we see. I know very well that the debates I have had with myself over issues presented in the last plays we have seen would not have happened if I had viewed the same story presented on a TV show or typed on a website.

    • Gabbie,
      I totally agree with you and Terry Teachout that a huge part of a live theater experience is the intimacy. The audience and the actors are all sharing in the experience of a story and going through all of the emotions of the characters together. A shared experience that large just can’t occur through a computer or TV screen. The act of making a conscious effort to get tickets to a show in advance and go out and experience it may seem foreign to many people, especially young people, but I think that its something we should all make an effort to participate in more. Sharing an intimate experience such as going to theater can allow people to connect on a deeper level than if they were just watching a TV show.

  11. Theater is a needed component for a public figure like Obama. Ultimately it is his image that he says when he talks about the theater of politics. Being on stage, receiving the spotlight can all be implied in this idea of “theater.” And Obama, as he admits, isn’t so good with it. He’s not conscious of the audience of his own show, which resulted in incidents like this mentioned in the article above.

    To say that theater in this context had a shallow connotation therefore I believe is jumping ahead a bit too much. It is an undeniable, necessary facet of a political figure and I believe it’s a wordplay at the end of the day. People can replace the word, “theater” with marketing and it would still hold the same meaning… But then I started to wonder, what would be the process behind this conscious decision of using the word, “theater” to describe this situation? (I would love to receive any input to this question.)

    In addition, to the question, “how does theater change us?” I would like to to take this question personally. How does our personal theater change us? I would like to answer it this way: it’s all about the presentation. The negatives go away, or if they don’t they are done consciously. There was a conscious decision behind every move to present. In which light will I shed my dirty secret (- in a spotlight or in a tinted light? )

    Then what is the purpose of theater, personally? Cohesion and respect for the community and society we live for, would be my answer. In the Washington Post article, Obama failed at the “art of theater of politics — or something along those lines” and he was criticized because it showed lack of respect to the community he was serving, or part of.

    Now going back to the more technical theater, – what is the purpose behind it and how do we increase engagement/ turnout rate- I really do agree with the article that was mentioned above. Smaller theaters increase engagement with the audience, and I have had nothing but positive experience in smaller theaters. In addition, non traditional settings, different stage settings would definitely prompt the audience to be more engaged with the play. I really believe especially with Netflix and streaming so available, the traditional format of theaters needs to be challenged. The traditional way of acting and character development need to be challenged. In this moment of pushback, theater needs to collectively come back in innovative and different ways to attract audience and membership. In order to do that, diversity is a key issue that needs to be pressed. Lack of diversity has been a long struggling issue within the theater society. There needs to be a more aggressive move to become more inclusive and to be more aggressive in presenting an interracial cast or an all POC cast, because the play will evolve into a different style based on different interpretation of the script.

    Ultimately, the question shouldn’t be what’s gone wrong with theater, but what’s become stale with theater? And if stale, what’s the next move that wasn’t explored, full-heartedly, aggressively yet in theater?

    • Andrea,

      In response to your opinion about increasing community engagement and turnout rate, I completely agree with you. I as well have had only positive experiences with small theaters as I feel that they are more informal and that I am truly a part of the play. I also completely agree with your argument that the theater needs to be challenged and modernized to the present time. Before, attending a play was one of the only ways to get amusement. We live in a society where leisure time is very scarce and traveling to a theater and sitting down to watch a two hour play just isn’t feasible. Now with movies and TV shows that are readily available by streaming websites like Netflix, the theater needs to find a way to challenge these websites and attract a bigger membership and larger audience. I do feel that if the theater included persons of all backgrounds that would increase participation but I also feel that the theater needs to tackle issues that are more prominent. For example, I think that the theater should use current or recent events and create larger stories out of this (as they did in G-d’s Honest Truth). I feel that these plays might get more attention and increase turnout and generate a revival in theater.

  12. I am responding to “How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset”:

    I think that a fundamental flaw in this article is to compare theater-going to other types of entertainment consumption that are not really comparable at all. Comparing the theater to Netflix (my stand-in word for all instant online video streaming type things) is apples and oranges. They market to fundamentally different needs. Netflix did not replace theater, but rather created a brand new additional market for entertainment.

    Here’s why I think they’re not comparable: Going to the theater is an experience; an event; a place where ones goes to see and be seen. The entertainment aspect of course is important, but saying the theater is all about entertainment would ring false. As this article said, a good portion of people who buy tickets to big Broadway shows are tourists, showing that it’s far more about the experience than just the entertainment.

    Watching Netflix is not about an experience, it’s not about seeing and being seen, and it’s certainly not something that tourists do. It comes in place of the channel-surfing or reading that we used to do in our downtime before internet movies were the norm, not in the place of the theater-going.

    I don’t think that theater can combat the stay-at-home mindset. I don’t think you’re going to get Netflix people off their couches and into the theater. But that doesn’t make me think theater is doomed. Even though we can listen to our favorite musicians for free online whenever we want, we still go to concerts for the experience; to go out, get dressed up, have fun with friends.

    The fact that theater-going has gone down 4% in the past ten years does not alarm me, considering that in that timeframe there was a major recession, coupled with rising ticket prices. His argument about generational differences in theater-going also didn’t surprise me; my parents and grandparents couldn’t afford to go to the theater when they were my age either. People who stay at home to watch Netflix aren’t the reason theater is in trouble, and frankly this article didn’t even convince me that it is in trouble.

    • Your rebuttals are really insightful! I hadn’t thought about all these other aspects to consider in light of the information and claims the author made. However, it is possible that the shift we see with people wanting to stay home more and not experience theater as much is being encouraged by the easy accessibility of Netflix and other online streaming. You said Netflix is just a replacement of channel surfing and reading that were previously being used to fill downtime (although I think channel surfing, to some extent, feeds off of the on-demand mentality), but it is possible that the percentage of people going to the theater during this time is the 4% that stopped going after Netflix.

    • Your analysis of the article brings up some very interesting points about the nature of theater and its role in entertainment. I really like your point about the fundamental differences between television, Netflix, the internet and theater. I have noticed and have come to enjoy the very social nature of participating in an audience at plays. This may become very important for theaters in the future. While theaters may not be able to combat the “stay at home mindset”, they may be able to attract more audience members by stressing the social atmosphere of going to a play. As Richard Nelson discusses in “On the Peculiar Nature of Theatre”, the intimacy that audience members feel while watching a play cannot be emulated by “at home” entertainment forms like Netflix and television.

  13. I think this Washington Post article entitled “President Obama Has Always Been a Terrible Political Actor” touches on a very important about the political theatre around politicians and campaigns that so often detract from the issues at hand. I think the article has a point in saying that President Obama likes to stay above the fray of political theater, which some argue has lost him friends (as Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times). This political caricature President Obama has chosen to make for himself is that of a politician above the crowd. With his supporters, I think this tends to make him appear more of an academic and less of a politician. However, I think to his opponents this character makes him seem more condescending. I don’t know if I agree that President Obama doesn’t know how to coordinate political theater, but the choice of character wasn’t necessarily the most likable in such a polarized political climate.
    Another note worth point out is President Obama faces far greater challenges in the realm of political theater than any president before him. President Obama must cater to a public that desires, and acquires constant updates on his daily activities. Even more in recent years, politicians are scrutinized for every move they make because the public has much more access to their political image than ever before with social media, Internet and recording devices. The stage of political theater has shifted from the podium to every day life. Just the other day I watched a video of an unwitting President Obama working out at a gym in Moscow while being secretly recorded by another client. The political stage is so far beyond the formal appearances that I think it is unrealistic for a politician to be on all the time.

    • You raise an interesting — and spot-on — point about the shift from the political realm to everyday life. I absolutely agree that it is nearly impossible for the president to be on all of the time. However, I do think it remains important for the president to provide appropriate actions when required. Here is where your point comes in: the final clause, when required, becomes distorted because of the changing role and nature of the media. As such, the question now becomes, “How can we expect the president to provide appropriate optics when the focus has shifted from his actions as commander-in-chief to his daily routines?”

  14. I read the “How Theaters Can Combat the Stay at-home Mindset” piece. I was actually very worried reading the statistic the author presented proving that there are less and less people interested in going to see live theater. This could be very detrimental and could lead to the complete fizzing out of theater culture. This bothers me because the experience of seeing “Yentl” and “G-d’s Honest Truth” have both stayed with me in a unique way. They both sparked my imagination in a way that watching a movie does not, and I am worried that younger people may not get to experience this kind of enrichment. Movies are very different from plays or readings because movies present you with everything from the scenes, to montages, to incredible background music and so forth that nothing is left for the imagination to conjure up. Plays are open to interpretation while movies just present you with the makers’ vision.

    I think one of the challenges that theater faces with the youth is the lack of exposure. There was a period of time in high school when I wanted to see live performances after I saw some plays on YouTube, but I didn’t know where to go to see a play nor did I know what plays were good to watch. There’s such limited knowledge about local live theater that’s readily available, and people are not necessarily looking to go out of their way to seek out that knowledge. There’s also the issue of ticket prices. It makes sense for them to be more expensive than movie tickets; however, because they are more expensive than movie tickets people are more likely to opt to go to the movies than they are to go see a live play.

    The on-demand mentality may also be a real issue for live theater to combat, but I think that this can be used to live theater’s advantage if media sources like TV, and YouTube are used to advertise new plays coming out. I also loved the idea of a cozy theater like the Writer’s Theater in Chicago. When the author talked about the intimacy of this theater, it took me back to Theater J because it was a similar feel to what was described of Writer’s Theater. I do feel like I got a little bit of “Yentl” on me as the actors made use of the whole theater especially during the dialogue that took place on the side staircase of the theater. In such an intimate setting, I could really feel everyone’s energy and attentiveness to the play. In movie theaters, there is a seamless disconnect between moviegoers during a film screening. It could be because of the size of the movie theater or maybe it’s because of the intense theatrics and the actors who feel a million miles away. However, live theater, especially cozy ones, have something special and unique to offer.

    I hope that through this growing fascination with live theater, I will come to use my imagination more not just during a play, but in everyday things. I think this sparks the imagination in a more wholesome way which is particularly beneficial when one is engaged in intentional reading. There is also an air of elegance to people who “do” theater, and I hope to humbly adopt that air too.

  15. There is no denying that theater is a crisis currently to raise attendance and actual make the money necessary to continue going. However, I take issue with Teachout’s attribution of this solely to the rise of instantaneous entertainment via the internet. Yes, the mediums are in conflict with each other, as has happened throughout history. There is a generational gap; old media battles new media, and people take sides for one or the other as “best.” What Teachout doesn’t address is theater’s reputation and the role that has played in lowered attendance rates.

    The fact of the matter is that attending the theater is a luxury. Both monetarily, although ticket prices can be made affordable for different populations, and mentally. It has traditionally been something that people do because they can. People who have the time and resources to take 3+ hours our of their lives for entertainment purposes. Or people who have the time and resources to take those hours and spend them towards thinking about the play and what it means.

    It seems to me, however, that in today’s society, where everything’s worth is measured by how much money it can make, theater is seen as something for the bourgeois, a time suck that takes more effort than it’s worth. I’ll admit to feeling this way myself at times, when I’m exhausted from work and school and life and chose to spend the evening watching Netflix instead of seeing a student production (which at CMU is a pretty great opportunity).

    What it comes down to is not simply just ticket prices or just marketing the right way, with the right productions, but transforming theater’s reputation as a whole. A reputation of being high-class and overly intellectual and a reputation that, let’s be honest, the theater community has never fought too hard against.

    I believe that theater, the arts, and the humanities hold value in a way that cannot be measured monetarily. The rest of society might disagree, but then we need to find a way to alter their perception and not the medium itself.

    • Mairead,

      I appreciate your rejection of the author’s premise that declines in theater attendance are necessarily due to new media. Your recognition of the fact that there is always tension between old media and new media is something the author didn’t really address, and is a huge weakness to his argument.

      Theater is definitely, for the most part, an event about luxury and status enjoyed by the upper class. But I am wondering why you are calling for change on this? It seems to me that especially since motion pictures started in the mid-20th century, theater has held this reputation, and it has not given it too much trouble so far. It is always good to have a high-class audience when you’re trying to make a profit. Are you thinking that maybe the theater is losing that high-class audience and needs to start marketing to the proletariat? Or just because the inherent artistic value of the theater should be accessible to all?

  16. Before reading the article “How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset”, I already had an appreciation and a certain amount of respect for theater and the arts. Growing up, I always aspired to be one of these performers up on stage but I didn’t quite realize how important theater was and what role it has in society.

    In my personal opinion, theater is beneficial because it provides society with a healthy and stimulating outlet for entertainment. With plays, audiences have to creatively use their minds to understand them and each person must derive their own meaning from it. These plays are stories that we can learn and gain insight from and also build our societal skills. With these insights gained, lessons can be learned which can apply to future situations. Theater requires one to think deeply and it is not for those who aren’t prepared to think cognitively. Another reason why I appreciate theater is that most plays contribute to literacy by utilizing proper language and a comprehensive vocabulary which is just one of the reasons why theater is sometimes of a higher quality than television.

    So far, attending these plays has reminded me what valuable lessons that you can learn from theater. The knowledge that I have gained from these plays have been far more valuable than anything that I have seen on television lately. I have also learned so much about the Jewish culture which I hadn’t really been exposed to previously.

    A challenge that theater has now is appealing to the masses. I have noticed while attending these plays that the audience mainly consists of older adults and that most of the younger people are students. Most young adults would rather sit in front of a television or computer and watch hours of Netflix than travel outside and watch a two hour play. For many younger people, it is just more convenient and appealing to watch these entertaining but low quality shows.

    Something that I expect from my future theater experiences is to learn more about the significance of the stage. Staging is an aspect of theater that I feel less proficient in and I hope that later on I can learn more about its importance in the plotline of each play that I see.

    • Ude, I like how you combined elements from different articles in your post. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but I like that you brought together different points from each! I thought many of the things you cited as benefits of theater were accurate and well-articulated. One of the coolest things about theater is the creativity involved. I feel like this is something that you don’t see in a lot of other forms of entertainment these days. This might be partly because special effects and new filming techniques are so heavily utilized in tv shows and movies, sometimes at the expense of acting talent. Sometimes I think these limit the ability of the audience to use their imagination or to appreciate simplicity and the intimacy of theater more.

  17. As described in the article, “How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset”, going to see a play can have the effect of transporting the audience into a “parallel universe”, where each person is able to experience the joy, pain and adventure of the play’s characters as they are portrayed on stage, in real time and in front of the audience, by skilled actors and actresses. While the theatre experience has its own advantages in comparison to other forms of entertainment, such as movies and TV, the article by Terry Teachout discusses the enormous obstacle that the theatre business is currently facing – how to market the unique theatre experience to a world that is seemingly consumed by an instant gratification, Netflix-devoted mentality.
    Indeed, I can understand how theaters can be struggling to entice people – particularly young people who have grown up with the instant gratification offered by the internet – to take the time out of their busy lives to go to a show and devote themselves to it for an evening. Most people do not want to give up their time, energy or money when an alternative, instant and arguably cheaper (depending on how you download your movies or TV) means of entertainment is available on the TV or on the computer.
    However, I believe that there are other reasons as to why people tend to choose to “stay at home” rather than go out to a live-performance show. One reason could be that many people are just not aware of the theatre experiences available to them in their communities. If one turns on the TV, or goes on Youtube or Facebook, he or she is guaranteed to come upon previews for the newest movies and TV shows to be released. The advertisement for these programs is everywhere, and thus people do not need to exert much energy to learn about these programs. Moreover, because people can access TV, Youtube or Facebook instantly (and are indeed addicted to this instant gratification), they access these modes of entertainment more often, and thus are all the more frequently bombarded by advertisements for future entertainment programs (which they will also be able to view instantly). In short, it’s a vicious instant-gratification cycle that doesn’t allow for people to have too much exposure to theatre advertisements. Without knowing which plays or musicals are currently available for them to see, people become that much more unlikely to exert the energy into learning about the shows, buying their tickets and actually traveling to the theatre to watch the performance.
    To be sure, the problem is not as simple as people not having enough exposure to advertisements. Even if everyone was exposed to theatre advertisements all of the time, many people may still not care. Therefore, finding an attractive way to market theatre to the masses is important, and is why I believe Teachout’s proposal of using the “intimacy of theatre” to attract people is very interesting. As Teachout explains, embracing the local, “artisanal” and even small aspects of a theatre can advertise the theatre in a way that is very fashionable and ultimately desirable to the public. Ultimately, people need to be sold on the utterly unique and special nature of the theatre before they will allow themselves to experience that nature for themselves.

  18. RE: Theaters and the stay-at-home mindset

    Technological advancements and globalization come to us with convenience. It is not until we later look back that we come to find the often sad distance between convenience and the lost values or experience that we would have in lieu of that convenience. I think of the emergence of social media and how that has stifled interpersonal relationships in real life and in real time. I can’t, however, think of a better time than now to promote and highlight the significance of real relationships. People really do want those real relationships, we just flock to convenience before considering that fact. This social media paradigm illustrates the issue that theatre is facing today. It is running a race with convenience, and unfortunately, convenience seems to be winning.

    I personally have seen very few theatrical productions in my life, but coming to DC and taking this class has sparked a new appreciation for theater and how the experience makes it unique compared to other kinds of artistic consumption. I like to think that i was lost to theater, and so are many people today, especially in my generation and seemingly in the ones to come. Is this, then, the end of theater? Even in the face of the striking stats, I think absolutely not. I do, however, think that theater must start to pitch something new. If it can’t beat convenience in this race, then it should probably focus on running faster/ going farther. I think part of this movement forward is the idea of intimacy, and that unique experience, etc that must be highlighted. While i am no connoisseur of the history of theatre, it seems to me that in the past, theatre has been one of those things that people actively seek out. In a time like this, when folks are not actively seeking it out, what i want to see is a renaissance. Its not that people don’t love theatre anymore, its just that they have found convenience or they have not yet discovered their love for theatre. This puts theatre in a prime spot for marketing and reaching out to those folks. Theater companies must begin to develop new marketing strategies that highlight the uniqueness of the experience, especially to the younger individuals. Incentives and collaboration with other thriving areas is also a good idea. All-in-all, i am in agreement with the article’s assertion that theater is suffering in our time, but i refuse to conclude that this calls doom. There is in fact a chance for theater to become a big part of communities and art consumption again.

  19. I think we need theatre for many of the same reasons Richard Nelson does. It’s because theatre is a form of communication between the playwright and the audience, and we need to start thinking about it as “an end in itself.”

    When I created art in high school, I was under constant pressure to explain to people what my creations “meant.” For multiple summers I took classes at a prestigious art institute. I learned amazing techniques but ultimately what stuck with me the most was that my teachers taught me to find meaning in works of art and effectively incorporate it into my own. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to understand how to draw meaning and emotion from our experiences, but it is possible for art to just be art. When was the last time someone asked, “But what does the Mona Lisa mean?”

    I’ve heard stories of people walking around in museums and staring for 5-10 minutes at solid black canvases. Most people think these people are digging too deep for meaning, thinking about things the artists never intended for them to think about, but I disagree. I think art like that triggers memories and personal thoughts for people and make them reflect on their own lives.
    Perhaps this is why my thoughts for the importance of theatre aligned so closely with Nelson. Theatre is important because it gives us a chance to think about our own lives and our society’s culture and values. As Nelson says, it is “describing the complexity of the human heart.” Society needs theatre and more broadly the arts to evaluate itself by.

    The last thing I wanted to touch on is the importance of theatre as a group experience. There is something so fulfilling about having anonymity at the same time as having a sense of belonging. When the lights come down I lose all reservations to hide my laughter, my joy, my sadness, and my disappointment. The sense of community I feel while watching a performance with a room full of strangers means a lot to me, and although I don’t see plays often enough, when I do, they mean a lot – but not because they’re supposed to mean something.

    • Kim,
      I agree with your statement that art “triggers memories and personal thoughts for people and make them reflect on their own lives.” Like you, I see this as one of the most important reasons for going to a theatre. Even if someone who went to a play or musical tries to explain it to someone who didn’t, it isn’t going to be as effective. Because everyone’s viewpoints differ, people may disagree with what the best or worst parts of the play were, as well as the message they walk away with.
      I also liked your statement about seeing a play with a roomful of strangers. I have never thought about the connection the audience feels with each other in addition to the connection with those on the stage. However, it does make sense to me, because seeing a play with friends and being able to talk about it afterwards is more enjoyable then going by yourself, and it will be something I will try to observe in future performances.

    • Kim,

      I enjoyed reading your blog post, particularly your discussion on the meaning of art, and whether or not art is supposed to have meaning. I admit that I am one of the many people who have thought that the “people walking around in museums and staring for 5-10 minutes at solid black canvases” are looking too deeply to find meaning that isn’t actually there. But I appreciate and agree with your response to those people, to me – that art can trigger personal memories and thoughts for people. These memories and thoughts are unique to each person, and thus every person’s interpretation of the art is unique and valuable. Obviously, just because art is unimpressive to one person does not mean that it is understood as unimpressive by every person. I believe it’s important to recognize that art, and theatre in particular, is not supposed to have the same effect on every person. Thanks for reminding me of this. The meaning transmitted through art is fluid; it may differ from person to person, and may even change for a single person over the course of time. While viewing a play, it is important to not only reflect on how one personally finds meaning in the play, but to also contemplate how others may find meaning in it. By recognizing the similarities and differences between every person’s understanding of the play’s meaning, one is better able to understand the greater significance of the work of art.

  20. Theater is an extremely important part of politics. This is discussed in the Washington Post article “President Obama has always been a terrible political actor” written by Chris Cilliza. It points out that Obama recognizes that optics is an important part of his job, but he has never fully grasped it. It could be because he doesn’t see the value in presentation, and believes that action is much more important than looks. Action is a vital part of politics, but appearance and presentation also play a very key role. The public will base a lot of their opinion on what they see The President doing and how they see him behaving; they don’t have as much access to everything he does behind closed doors. A persona is a very powerful thing and it can get the public to identify with you. Political optics is what leads to public perception and can either help or hurt a president greatly.
    As far as getting people to go out and attend theater productions, I agree with what Terry Teachout said in her Wall Street Journal Article, “How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset”. Any TV show or movie we may want to watch is available right at our fingertips for a small or no cost, so it’s not surprising that people are opting to stay in the comfort of their homes rather than go out and spend the money on a theater ticket. However, there is a huge amount of value in attending a live theater production. Rather than watching something that is previously recorded and the same every time, you are watching people perform and tell a story for you live and in person. That experience is unique and amazing. Although technology is great and there are many ways to experience art through it, there will never be a true substitute for live theater.

  21. Richard’s Nelson article, “On the Peculiar Nature of Theatre: What’s a Play for”, attempts to describe the relationship between theatre and community. Like Nelson, I believe that theatre is a very valuable relationship that should not be ignored. In addition to stimulating the economy in an area by bringing in more tourists and raising property values, it creates a connection between the stage and audience. Art is an experience that allows people to see the world from different viewpoints and, I believe, can help promote a better understanding of the world and society. However, artistic directors, managers, and development directors should not be the only people who explain why theatre matters to those not familiar with in; our job, especially now as regular theatre goers, should be to encourage others to make theatre a valuable aspect of their life.

    However, in order to allow others to see the value of theatre, they need to be able to step away from the “stay-at-home mindset” described by Terry Teachout. Technology is taking over the world and when people have Netflix available, they do not see a reason to leave their house and pay money to see something when they could simply view it at home on their television. I believe that this mindset starts at the elementary school level. Arts are not being funded in public schools, causing them to be limited or even taken out, and even when out of school, kids are placed in front of a television to be kept still while their parents are busy doing something else. This causes a disconnect between kids and art, and as they grow older, they find no need for it because they believe they have survived just fine without it. Growing up, I was one of those kids. I lived near a big city with expensive tickets and my town didn’t have a local theatre. I didn’t think going to see plays was necessary when you could just read the script or see a movie. However, after just a few theatre visits, I see the value of theatre. By being in the audience, you are able to see the passion and alternative meanings behind a story, which is why I will now promote theatre to those who do not see the value.

  22. With the advancement of technology, the rising cost of living, and accelerated form of living, less people are going to the plays. In the article ‘How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset’, Terry Teachout argues that play attendance has dropped in the last few years to 8.3% from 12.3% of US adults, I would not be surprised that young adults is even lower. Terry attributes this low attendance to several factors, especially to the fact that tickets have seen an increase in its price in the last few years. Also she argues that young adults are turning more to new forms of entertainment, for instance the media, and new technological equipments.

    As a young adult, and as a student, time is a very critical reason of not attending plays. I have always loved theater, I could not compare watching a film to watching a live play. The connection between actors and actresses, with the audience is unique. It is a living moment. However, between work and school I only have a few hours a day to do my school assignments and getting some sleep. Unfortunately some plays are only presented at times when it is complicated for me to attend. However, living the experience of live theater is unique and I always try to go on a weekend, DC has provided me with the opportunity to be surrounded by great theater companies and performances.

    The cost of living has been going up in the last few years; and the prices of going to watch a play have also gone up, but I believe that many times we cannot set a price to art, it is a lesson that I have learned. Sometimes a ticket to a play requires an economic effort that I am willing to pay. However, I have seen many other plays, great projects, for low prices. The key is to find where those opportunities are.

    To conclude, I would not change the experience of watching a play in an electronic devise to the experience of watching it live. A live performance is in my opinion a marriage between the audience and the performers, and the element that brings both together is what makes theater so special.

    • Hi Luis,

      I agree with you that there’s something special about watching a theatre performance live. The connection you feel with the actors is so much more intense, and our society should definitely seek experiencing it more.

      In addition, I think there’s also a fundamental difference between the content of plays verses those of movies and television. I’ve noticed digital media to be increasingly reliant on special effects, scene changes, and fantasy creations. The technology used to do all this is astounding, but I think plays tend to center more around relationships and character building than movies and television do. It’s easier to see characters growing and changing. Relationships are more dynamic because the audience is not seeing them through someone else’s lens.

  23. This post is meant to be a brief response to the recent Wall Street Journal article by Terry Teachout entitled, “How Theaters Can Combat the Stay-at-Home Mindset.” Overall, I thought this article was an extremely interesting and informative read. It brought to light the current state of the theater industry in the United States (and, presumably, elsewhere as well) and suggested some possible ways in which recent trends can be reversed. Perhaps not surprisingly, the news isn’t all that good. In fact, it’s downright discouraging for anyone who attends the theater regularly, or simply admires it as an art form. Teachout cites the most recent Survey of Public Participation in the Arts put out by the National Endowment for the Arts to substantiate his claim that theater attendance is down for both “non-musical” and musical productions alike. This is bad news, particularly given the fact that, inexplicably, musicals are the bread and butter of the theater industry in the United States. After outlining in general terms the state of the theater industry in the U.S., Teachout turns his attention to analyzing the reasons for this dramatic drop in attendance. He suggests that some of it has to do with the fact that attending plays or other dramatic productions is perceived as extremely expensive. These expenses are cost-prohibitive and end up discouraging some who might otherwise attend. Unfortunately, this reputation is entirely incorrect, as prices (outside of Broadway) are pretty reasonable. Moreover, concerns about quality are misplaced. This is something Teachout should know something about, as he spends a fair chunk of his time reviewing plays professionally. So what’s to be done about the deplorable lack of theater attendance in the U.S.? Teachout suggests that it relies in some way on the very media forms that have displaced tradition methods of consuming artistic content. Steps should be taken to ensure that theater is marketed at least as effectively as other types of entertainment. Such a campaign would include emphasis on all the things that make theater special, and it’s our job to sell it.

    • Sure, it’s our job to sell it but I think what makes it so tough to market for theatre is the lack of appeal for theatre. Not to say the quality has gone down but theatre, facing so much competition, to say marketing has to be done as effectively as other types of entertainment raises a question for me. What is effective marketing for theatre? With such a small, specific group of people labeled as theatre goers, how do we expand the spectrum of potential audience? With movie tickets being 10 bucks, Netflix 10 a month, how do we ask potential audience twice or more for the same type of entertainment?

  24. Chris Cillizza’s piece tackles quite possibly one of the most important duties of our nation’s Commander-in-Chief: that of a public figurehead. While the president is responsible for guiding the country in all aspects, domestic and foreign, he or she is also responsible for representing the face of the nation. President Obama built his presidency on his power as an orator, and much of his success can be attributed to his electrifying speeches. However, he has all too often presented the United States as soft or weak because of his image.

    As Cillizza pointed out, the juxtaposition of a round of golf and the beheading of an American journalist does not exactly play out well for the president. The outrage surrounding this gaffe — enough to warrant a question from Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” — demonstrates the importance of Harvey Milk’s “theater of politics.”

    The importance of the image of the office of the president is arguably as significant as the stroke of the president’s pen. The president, and other lawmakers even, can use speeches and legislation to advance just about any position. But all of the effect is soon lost without an appropriate image. As was the case with the president’s round of golf, it was not something that he said that got him in hot water; his response to the brutal murder was appropriate. Rather, it was his actions immediately following his statement that cause an uproar.

    The president’s actions are not only negative; often times, subtle actions promote the image of the president and can influence legislation or processes. As such, the theater of politics, or even the theater of the presidency, has the potential to influence the course of a presidency.

  25. The theater, the theater, what happened to the theater? Politicians throughout time have often been chastised for using any event imaginable for political gain, so it is ironic to see President Obama critiqued for his inept ability to take advantage of political theater. He’s brandished as an intelligent and logical person, above the tawdry use of antics for personal gain. Admirable? Perhaps. Smart? Probably not. Time and time again, we have seen this president miss easy political points for doing something he feels is right, or not doing something he feels is unnecessary. The article sights the recent tragedy of a murdered US journalist, and how the president chose to go golfing right after his address on the tragedy. To some, this act made him come across as a selfish and uncaring individual. Is this the case, though? Probably not. Most likely, the president feels deeply saddened by the murder, but also likes to golf. In his eyes, mourning over the fallen and continuing on with one’s scheduled plans are not mutually exclusive. To the president, he knows that in order to be the best he can be, he needs to keep to his planned schedule and routine. He planned to golf, so he did it. It probably helps him unwind and relax, so that he can approach his job with a fresh and reenergized mindset. He isn’t uncaring, he’s just unwilling to change who he is. That certainly isn’t a bad thing, and it definitely does not make him a bad person or president. However, his lack of focus on political theater, while completely his free choice and prerogative, certainly costs him. Had he spent more time on political theater and the normal antics of politicians throughout his career, he might even be ahead of where he is today (if that is possible). Ultimately, I think the important point to remember is that he is the president, and you get there for certain reasons. He thinks and acts a certain way, and that allows him to achieve his goals in the best way he sees fit. So should we reprimand him? Scold him? You can. That’s because you’re free to do what you like. Just like the president is free to ignore political theater.

  26. My impression is that theatre is supposed to persuade audiences that what they are experiencing is real, even if only within the confines of the theatrics on stage. I cannot attest to President Obama’s “stage presence as described in this article, but I can attest to the goose bumps I feel as I revisit each of the links to speeches he has given within the past several years. While I agree that playing a round of golf is not considerate of the “optics” after being heartbroken over Mr. Foley’s execution, I hardly believe the President meant to be insensitive. There are a variety of methods for decompressing when underneath intense stress, and one can argue this is the President’s method.

    What I find most fascinating about the President is his heightened awareness to engage in the “theatre of politics”; even though, shifting from his “take action” mentality to “nurturing role” is unfamiliar. Given the President’s high profile image, the overflowing expectations of Americans and Congress, as the rest of the world watches, regarding his response to randsome Mr. Foley, I cannot even begin to imagine his stress level. If channeling his frustrations over the loss of the American journalist meant hitting golf balls as hard as he could to redirect his focus from the dispair felt around the Nation, then I think that is what the President should have done. Perhaps the media could have respected his privacy in this moment, but they didn’t—and don’t.
    Do we really need and\or respect presidents who are full of fluff. Or do most Americans want a president to take action. I, for one, am uninterested in political theatrics and deception, but understand the esthetics of appealing to the American people.

    So when should “the theatre of politics matter”, especially when it doesn’t come naturally? I honestly cannot contribute a clever response, other than to say, I believe President Obama is definitely pondering this very question now. It is very possible that he will not be seen hitting golf balls after another interview with an intense subject matter, which is burning on the hearts and minds of the American people. And I won’t be surprised if President Obama bursts out of his introvert cacoon, and offers a hug to a college student pouring out his\her heart about an issue severely effecting their lives in the months ahead. Please inform me when it happens. Thanks.

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