Today’s “Liveness” of Theatre is More Important than Ever

April 17, 2014

Jason Radalin

In her 2011 book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each other,” MIT Professor Sherry Turkle writes: “Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.”  Our electronics are so irresistible, that we sometimes need to be reminded of the natural human instinct of true person-to-person contact, and live performance may be our best reminder of just that.

The theatre has been around forever.  As long as humans have existed, we’ve been acting out stories, portraying characters, singing the exploits of legendary heroes, and communing with one another.  As time marched on, methods and motivations may have changed, but live performance has always been with us.

In 2014, of course, we live our lives in front of screens.  Communication, learning, work, and (yes) entertainment, all attach to electronic devices today, which makes the “liveness” of the theatre more important than ever.

Even though we live in an age that is eminently recordable (and we all love taking pictures and recording videos), there’s a difference between experiencing something and recording that experience.  FM graduate Elise Smalley, now studying theatre at SUNY New Paltz, says it like this: “Theatre and live performance offer audiences an experience that can’t be imitated by phone. The audience feels the energy of the actors and the actors feel the energy of the audience as they embark on a shared journey with every performance. That exchange of energy is something you can’t get on film or television.” 

Ricky DeRosa, who earned his B.A. from SUNY Oneonta after his stint in FM’s Theatre program, says: “I have seen personally the positive effects live theatre brings to people. I toured the country with Theatre IV based in Richmond, Virginia. We would bring educational children’s theatre to schools across America. The kids always responded in a positive way, both to the academic and entertainment aspects of the performance.” 

Keelie Sheridan, who went on for both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Theatre after FM, says: “As our generations become regressively less and less imbued with tangible social contact, I think live performance is more important than ever. As an actor, I selfishly crave the physical connection of being in a room with people, breathing the air they’re breathing, sharing an experience with them. My generation is the last to remember the world before the Internet. Our childhoods were built solely on real interactions. But we started learning the new technology in our teens so we’re proficient. And now, no one younger than me remembers life without streaming video; sharing stories in a social context. It’s a really interesting time to be creating theatre. I accept and embrace technology in my work, but I always want my audience in the room with me.”

Shakespeare’s character Hamlet famously says, “The play’s the thing…,” and though we live in an age where electronic media seems to dominate, that just may be true.

The FM Theatre will be presenting Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical “Aida” on Friday, April 25 and Saturday, April 26 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, April 27 at 2:00 p.m.  - come join us for some liveness!

Jason Radalin is Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts.

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