Monday, September 22, 2008

Pragmatic Theater: Responsivity II - Read Only Culture

I wanted interactivity and responsivity in theater. In a way, it's based on the differences Lawrence Lessig laid out between "Read-Only" culture, in which there is a producer and a consumer, and "Remix" culture, where everyone responds and reacts. The internet, of course, facilitates "Remix" culture greatly, but it existed first: in participatory theater (before the concept of actors/audience originated), in poetry competitions (such as those that Muslim students have competed in for centuries), etc. But after inventions like the Printing Press, the Radio Broadcast, and the Television were created, our most popular forms of getting culture and information became mass media--not aimed at the few people in your local community, but at a global population. And in order for that to be possible, the technology limited mass-media to a read-only culture.

But the Theater has, for quite some time, been a predominantly read-only culture. This is probably because of the rise of literary theater, for which Shakespeare is probably to thank. After all, Shakespeare is more well-known for his published plays than for his actual productions--his actual productions are inaccessible to me, but his text is still reachable to me. In fact, in the English Tradition, the 18th-19th Centuries (from accounts I've read by George Bernard Shaw) was mostly dominated by productions of Shakespeare or translations of popular French farces; and since the idea of producing 'novel' or 'original' works becomes devalued, and thus the established text becomes the core of the show.

Meanwhile: These productions go from being performed in venues like inn-yards to "theaters," which are built with a read-only ethic in mind. Audiences become silent, still, in the dark; more and more they are separated from the stage. Late 19th-Century realism imposes the "fourth wall" and ends the long tradition of soliloquoys and asides in "serious" productions.

So the theater became a (largely) read-only venue. Is that the only way it can be? Is that the healthiest way for the theater to interact with the public? And what would a theater-building look like that took Remix Culture instead of Read-Only Culture at its core?