Chris Brandt and The Difference Between Theater and Movies

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Brandt explores the experiences and limitations of watching the scene versus being present as it unfolds @ One Journal. Many years ago, Medicine Show Theater Ensemble was performing a piece based on Aristophanes’ FROGS. We were six characters on crisscrossing paths, exploring our psychic underworlds. When two or more characters met, a scene ensued, and when we reached an individual or collective impasse we transformed into frogs, since Aristophanes’ frogs can live on either side of the river Styx. We had been invited to present the piece as part of a festival at the University of Pittsburgh.

Our performance venue was half a basketball court, and the audience was composed about equally of university people and inner-city high school students. The mostly white college crowd knew what to expect from theater and behaved accordingly, in spite of not being in a theater at all. The mostly black high school kids didn’t know what to expect, and as they caught the drift of the play, they began to comment on it, just as if they’d been at a movie. Actor Barbara Vann was the first to talk back to them, then others began to do so. The kids were first surprised to get a response, then vocally delighted. The other half of the audience was also surprised, and some members were also delighted. A few even joined in. There was never so much repartee that it overwhelmed the play: the comments were mostly germane, and our responses came out of our characters and actions, so the space between the audience and us became audible. That communication‑carrying space is always there in theater, but seldom does it become so concrete. I, for one, did not want that performance to end.

The experience of that performance of FROGS could not have happened in the movies. An obvious statement perhaps, but it has led me to ask, What are the real differences between the two? What is it we need and expect from each? All too often it is assumed that movies either have replaced, or can or will replace, theater, but this assumption cries out for exploration, for if we simply let it stand, and movie going completely usurps theater going as a social activity, we may lose a form of artistic expression vital not only to the artists who make it happen, but to our entire culture.

Image: Aniela Sobieski @ Paper Darts read more