How do we do theatre again

I saw a play yesterday and the overwhelming thought I had was that ‘theatre is dead.’ That’s a hard thing for me to think, let alone say, let alone write—as I am one of theatres most ardent fans. As an actor, I make [well made] my bread and butter doing theatre. I have sailed high and crashed low in the theatre, and as I sat there last night I thought ‘TV is so much better.’

Maybe I’ve been away too long, maybe it was the writing, maybe it was my first night out in awhile…

In truth, I wanted to leave ten minutes in, but to be completely honest, when the lights went up I thought,

“Oh, God, no. Please don’t make me stay.”

When I was a young actor, still in theatre school, and went to see a play—if I didn’t like it I’d say—”The acting? Can you BELIEVE they did it like that?!?”

(Although if it was a play I wrote and I went to see it I’d shoot to my feet—”The writing! WOW. Can you BELIEVE they did it like that! Bravo!”)

What I really meant was “I’m jealous you are on a stage and I’m not.”

Then I got a little older, and a little more secure and someone challenged me not to find out what was bad about a play, but what was good about it. In other words don’t shit on someone’s art: be critical.

Last night, I felt like I saw a filmed version of a play IN a theatre. And this makes sense—as most theatre done in the pandemic were filmed and put on streaming platforms. I could not feel the rubber band keeping the main characters together. Keeping them in urgency. Keeping them depending on one another. They would move so far away from each other as if nothing was tethering one to the other. They didn’t need each other. Going to see a show where people don’t REALLY NEED things from one another can be very tiresome. The film version I saw last night was swallowed up on this large stage.

I was happy to be in a theatre, but it was not exciting, spontaneous; no jolts! No lightning in a bottle.

Before the pandemic, I was in a show, and had four other productions lined up. One of them was a part, written for me, by the artistic director. Another was a part I didn’t even have to audition for (miraculous! Never happens!) in a major theatre in a world premiere of an exciting play by a famous playwright… that play was scrapped. Almost all those shows were scrapped.

I think about this, and I think about this piece I’m currently working on called Untitled Othello. It’s called this for several reasons and one is that he has a problem with the title: Othello: The Moor of Venice. He finds it “ill-defined,” and “misleading.” He also is encouraging the group and challenging himself to come up with a new title. One that perhaps will be more in-line with the story we want to tell. (One of his problems with the play is that the play is not considered a “problem play.” Though he has many other issues with Shakespeare’s Othello; a play he loves truly madly deeply.)

Untitled Othello (NOT A SHOW) is going to have a rehearsal gestation of four to six months which is unheard of on this continent. Any actor will tell you as the run goes on you get more comfortable; you get better; the heavy lifting is easier; you find things you didn’t know were there; you rediscover things on the edge of a pin, and you can almost without realizing it slow down time. (No mean feat.)

Maybe I was looking for something transcendent when I went to the theatre after not seeing a show in almost two years. After not really working as an artist for two years. After feeling I wasn’t contributing for two years. To my family, to myself, to my community, to the greater world around me, to Canada. (I’m Canadian.)

I was looking for God. And, as always, God is no where to be found. I think this is where the work must really begin.

How do we do theatre again?