As the need for communal experience increases in our increasingly ala carte world, it is worth noting that the play is no longer the thing. The thing, as it were, is the experiencing of the play with other people.
Although I agree that we've created a theatrical culture that does not foster communal experiences, and I agree that live performance is exactly the sort of forum for that communal experience that people are hungering for, and I even agree that the experience of the play with other people is an important part of that -- I don't think we should give up on live performance.
But we would need to change it.
I think I've said this before, but if you want your arts to be communal, you need to think about the different ways people participate in the arts. I think the future of theater is interactivity.
Américana Passover, the show I recently closed, represents the second of my theater company's productions committed to this principle. And the results are striking. One of my audience members told me, "I was trying to imagine what a piece of theater would be that needed its audience, and this was it.
From one review:
The dinner table is an intimate, comfortable place. However, be prepared for some fearless questions that demand fearless, honest answers.
From another review:
Among the most captivating of the night’s events were the topics of conversation I found myself discussing with my seat mate. As a New Yorker, I often keep my walls up and avoid interactions with strangers at all costs. Sharing deep, personal details with a random stranger that circumvented all polite chitchat felt like a cathartic way to spend an evening.
Our approach is to create a space, within which there is a performance, and simultaneously within which there is the ability to share the experience around (and through) the performance.
I will try to break down some specifics from within Américana Passover over a few upcoming posts, but for now let me just say -- performance can still be that communal focus points. But we can't turn out the lights and tell everyone to shut up and expect that to happen.