Live Theater in the Age of Screens

At a time when the most talked about “theater” is happening on screens – Peter Pan Live, Into The Woods, and now Galavant — has the definition of theater changed? Can you call it theater if you’re not breathing the same air as the actors?

These are some of the questions I ask in a new piece on Howlround, and that a whole slew of theater people discussed in a wide-ranging weekly #newplay Twitter chat that I moderated, touching on related subjects ranging from the rules for adaptations to hate-watching to Tweet seats.

A sampling below of the answers* to just the first question – whether the very definition of theater has changed:

Rick Stemm, playwright and game designer: The definition of theater has not so much changed, as expanded to include new ideas, some due to technology.

Adrian Verkouteren, composer and lyricist: Films/TV may document what a musical was like but remote viewing with or without an audience is never the same as a live show in front of a live audience.

Shawn C. Harris playwright: I think if it’s live that matters more than if it’s on a stage.

Ian Hylands, filmmaker and theater maker: Yes, the definition of theater has changed. Theater is not bound by rules and convention. It can be anything; that’s the joy of it.

Ashley L. Brown, actress, writer and producer: I think in theater an exchange between two living and breathing parties must happen

Eric Pfeffinger, playwright: It seems like Peter Pan was working to approximate a version of the live theater experience, while Into the Woods was a fully cinematic experience — which is to its credit: Flm adaptations that can’t shake their stage origins often don’t work.

Alan Katz, dramaturg: The definition of theater is “bodies sharing space.” Everything else is marketing.

Lu Lyons, actor and musician: Live on TV vs. live on stage; On stage on film or TV vs. a movie musical. So many different categories and experiences!


*I’ve replaced Twitter names with real names and occupations, made the sentence clearer, and spelled theater with er. (Here’s why)


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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