I have been listening to radio theater the past few days. It’s a medium that I haven’t much experience with. I wrote a short radio play in verse years ago about a women and her father who had Alzheimer’s. Waltzing in Present Tense. It won a competition as was supposed to be produced as a CD (that is how long ago!), but nothing ever came of it. In that sense, the play never existed. This weird little closet play that is rather like a desk-drawer novel.
In my mind, the difference between theater and literature is the collaborative aspect of the former. Of course, literature needs to be read. But that is a private matter. Even if you discuss it afterward, the experience is a private matter between the writer and the reader. But the impetus of theater is the attempt at a communal experience in real time. The in-the-moment aspect long preceded the fragmented virtual reality we have now. For me, it really is connected to the breath. Even reading aloud in my bed at night won’t open my, challenge my to accept other perspectives in the present tense.
The more intimate the physical relationship between actor and audience member, among the audience members, the more powerful the transformative effect.
Remember when transformative was a buzzword?
Theater, in the moment, is a kind of aspirational universe. Even when it explores our darker sides. It is a lie to say that we don’t desire to indulge our less-than-best selves. Catharsis is a kind of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too solution. It creates an inclusive community – even when the larger community does not. It forces a strange fellowship.
Like football games and parades, other forms of theater, it threatens one’s autonomy with the mob mentality. And giving into it (this safe space) can be an exercise in real joy.
When I teach (Western) theater history, I teach the perspective that the Dionysian festival was a brilliant effort to control the passions of the masses by letting them have their cake, and eat it to. A “time-out”. Like Vegas. Very like Vegas, maybe.
But radio theater? I am thinking about this. About this in-between medium of the private imagination and the shared imagination.
Still thinking about this…
There went the timer.
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Critical shyness when young was my reason to ignore performance arts. That lingered over the horizon, much too long. But you found a note that’s opened me to look again. Hmm. I remember a very small theatre-in-the-round, when first seen, “The Tempest” left a mark I cherished. Even reading poems aloud in public – took forever to do. My finger hovers just over what I most want to say. Thanks, would be right to say for now. n.