We've now been under the storm cloud of COVID-19 for a year, so it's also, at least for me, an anniversary of virtual theatre.
In the past 12 months, I've seen a pretty big divide among theatre folk; one on side of the aisle, we have those thespians and audiences who will take theatre any way they can get it, whether it be online or in-person. I like these people.
However, I've been saddened to find that some of my nearest and dearest friends are of the thinking that virtual theatre is no replacement for "real" theatre. (I'll get back to that quoted word in a moment.)
They will even go further; some have told me (knowing fully well I run a virtual theatre group) that they adamantly refuse to participate in any aspect of virtual theatre. In other words, if you can't get up on a stage in front of people, under hot lights and pounds of makeup or costuming, then no theatre is the way they'll go.
And sure, they're perfectly entitled to feel that way, but here's the part I think that those friends, and many others, are missing:
Virtual theatre is not trying to replace "real" theatre. (I know, that word again. It's coming up soon.)
I think that some people are under the mistaken impression that groups like mine, who are using available technology to present plays, musicals, and other types of performances, are trying to somehow destroy the old way of theatre. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our purpose, as virtual theatre creators, is two-fold: to fill the void left by the pandemic on the theatre community, and two, to add just one more way a person can take in a show. Some people, even before (or after COVID) do not, or cannot, leave their homes to participate in, or watch, a show, while some areas of the country (and world) are entirely void of theatre programs. Virtual theatre helps close that gap a little.
I say this as a person with financial investments in virtual theatre: I want nothing more than to be able to sit in an audience and watch a play in front of me. I completely agree with the naysayers on one thing: there is nothing like watching a show live; the energy between actor and audience, the live music, the camaraderie amongst everyone. In fact, I can state, with absolutely no hesitation, that I will be the first person in line to buy a ticket to see a "real" show once it is safe to do so.
Ok, so that word: real. That's what a lot of people are calling the way we used to take in theatre. But it rubs me the wrong way because even if you're separated from actors by a computer or TV screen, virtual theatre is no less real. Perhaps the problem lies in calling it "virtual," but what is clear is that actual humans are still performing a piece for you, often live.
And having done almost a dozen virtual shows by now, I can assure you that it's no easy thing for actors to perform in this medium. I'd say there are many aspects of it that are even harder than were it on stage before a live audience. Come see for yourself sometime.
Instead of calling it "real theatre," let's call it "traditional." After all, the form of theatre we all know and love -- a stage with actors on it, performing before an audience -- has been around for thousands of years. What could be more traditional than that?
So instead of turning up your nose at virtual theatre, try looking at it from another angle. Watch a livestreamed show, and if it's not what you like, then become a part of our online community and help us make it better. Or not. But remember, we are a community of creators, here to support each other. And we're here to stay.