The Stage and the Stream

By on 1 February, 2016 in Art, Fun, Sarah Thornton with 1 Comment

“Now, now there’s Twitter and email and Facebook and cable and satellite, and the movies and TV shows are all worthless, and we don’t even watch the same worthless things together, it’s all separate. And our lives are… disconnected.”

-Vanya in Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

The cast takes an "ussie"

The cast takes an “ussie”

I love television, especially nowadays, with so many great shows being developed and so many convenient ways to watch the entire series of almost any binge-worthy courtroom/hospital/western/family/detective/period drama my little heart could desire. I find myself anticipating with glee the moment when I can get far enough along in the hit show of the moment to actively participate in those water-cooler conversations at work, carefully tiptoeing around social media sites to avoid the devastating spoilers that surely await me.

It is easy to understand why many people choose to spend their free time in the comfort of their own living rooms catching up on the latest episodes of the multiple TV shows that have earned their faithful viewership. Why would anyone choose to spend an evening at the theater?

The impression some people have of the theater-going experience is that one has to get dressed up, sit quietly in the dark, and have people in outdated costumes bark confusing language at the audience for three hours. It can, under those circumstances, seem like the last way you’d want to spend your night off. But I argue that theater should be the opposite.

In the days before television, theater was the most popular form of entertainment. People of all kinds and all economic standings would gather under one roof or one amphitheater and experience a group of actors telling them a story. Groundlings would gasp from the front rows of the Globe in London as Juliet picked up Romeo’s dagger. Everyone laughed knowingly together as the masked Arlecchino struggled to choose between love or food, and they wept together as Antigone buried her brother. Theater provided them a sense of community, a collective experience, a shared memory – just as it does today.

In this technology-driven world, with everyone’s face lit from the cold glow of the smartphone screen, it is all too easy to create distance, to separate ourselves from the people sitting right across from us at the table. Even when we go out, we spend more time “checking in” or posting about where we are, who we’re with, and what we’re doing than actually experiencing our activities. We spend so much time watching clips of other people doing things (we even watch videos of other people watching those videos), and we share those clips with others to try to recreate that feeling that we saw those things together. Why not actually share things together in real life?

Shared experiences happen every single day at the theater. Together we laugh, we engage, we listen, we are moved. Unlike at the movie theater, where people are coming and going from the concession stand, or live tweeting their every thought about each screenshot, the theater forces us to turn off our phones and be in the room together. We don’t need a good Wi-Fi connection because we have a real, tangible connection. And it is never the same twice. We get to participate in a true, original moment in time. The beauty of live theater is that the show you are seeing will never happen again. Things constantly change. The audience changes, the actors’ performances change, and it all happens spontaneously in a moment.

Watching television is a singular experience. The screen can’t hear you or feel your energy in the room. The actors can’t hear your laughter or your sighs, or that truly beautiful noise that sometimes happens in the theater – the booming silence of people truly listening and eager for what will happen next. Theater is a collective experience, a shared one, a community. We are all there together, as one, to create something unique, and that is something everyone deserves on their night off.

Get your tickets for Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Cloverdale Playhouse, running February 25-March 6. Visit or call the box office at (334)262-1530 for more information.

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

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  1. Sandra says:

    Right on, Sarah Thornton. We are so lucky to have you joining us!

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