(Written originally for the Arts People blog. See original post at https://www.arts-people.com/ephemeral-performing-arts/)
In my work in theatre, I've often considered and discussed with colleagues the fundamental nature of live performing arts... the fact that it is so temporary. It is live, in the moment, often different from performance to performance; either by design, spontaneity, inspiration or accident.
So unlike film or audio recordings produced as a product that will last potentially forever, is the fixed lasting quality of those a benefit over live performances that exist only in the moment? Or is that live aspect, the fragility of the performance have its own intrinsic value that is preferred over the recording?
When discussing their work creating a film, directors and actors speak about their preference to rehearse or not. The fact that you can leap into shooting a moment of the story without knowing exactly what the actors will do in front of the lens means that you can sometimes capture pure magic that may never happen again. That true spontaneity might be more true, or genuine, than a scene on a stage that was rehearsed for weeks and now is trying to appear to be happening only in the moment, relying on the talents of the actors to re-enact it night after night for new audiences trying to make it fresh every time. This skill is not something that film actors need rely on in most cases. Out of as many takes of shooting a scene, the magic only needs to happen once, recorded by the camera, then onto the next moment of the story. Now you have that one ephemeral
moment, a moment of pure magic between actors, captured forever, to be enjoyed by countless people the world over. But, while it was live at the moment it was captured, it now is fixed. Every person sees that exact same performance. There is no energy passed from the audience to the actors and back as they watch it.
With theatre and other live performances, the magic is immediate. I
t's happening right now, in front of you, and can take your breath away, when it works. But it likely won't be as powerful every night. It may not hold up over weeks and months of performances. The actors must work very hard to make it seems brand new each time, and an off night means that an audience, likely seeing it for the first and only time, may not see your best performance.
So which is better? Or is it merely a difference? Do you have a preference?
I've personally worked for many years creating theatre, and I've also done some work in films. I enjoy both. The energy of embodying a character, creating emotions in front of an appreciative audience and telling a wonderful story is powerful, electric, exhilarating and unlike any other experience. However, I am often sad for that to end. A show runs for a limited time. Some people see it, others don't and never will, and when that show ends all that hard creative work you did is gone to soon be forgotten. With film friends and family anywhere can see it, now or in the future.
Here and gone. For the appreciative audience members out there. Keep this in mind the next time you see a live performance. Weeks, even months of preparation went into creating the work you'll see. Sets were built, costumes sewn and fitted, countless hours of rehearsals have happened and more, all leading to this moment when you'll see the show. It's monumental. It's sometimes magical. It's the work of many passionate individuals expressing themselves, telling a story, for you to enjoy. When the show ends and the cast steps out for a bow... they are thanking you for coming and enjoying their hard work, as much as you are thanking them for presenting it to you.
Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liason, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.arts-people.com
Spike, as his friends call him, has 30 years in the performing arts world as an actor, director, administrator, marketer, fundraiser. He has consulted with numerous theatres and other performing arts organizations and loves to help such groups and individual artists to achieve their success!