Lights Out, Theatre

Theater - Bored

Photo by Piper Falk — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

“Come on … why are we sitting in the dark?”

Alan Ayckbourn, master theatre maker, challenges his colleagues and theatre audiences everywhere to know the answer to that question. If you stumble for an answer, then the actors and director are stumbling, too.

As posted this week in KArts’ Culture News, Ayckbourn is as quick to write a play as he is to note that there is a lot of bad theatre out in the world. Having written twice as many plays as Shakespeare, and counting, Ayckbourn has a simple formula: “If you are going to ask people to be stuck in the dark you’ve got to surprise them.”

Of course, creating a genuine night of theatre is not, nor has it ever been, easy. Still, a theatre asks for a commitment of time and money and needs to be aware that this request becomes a demand once the lights go out.

A recent trip to the theatre encountered a production so pretentious and ponderous that even the director was seen dozing off — in the middle of the first act. If he was so bored, imagine what his audience felt — specially after paying a significant sum of money.

This is another of the keys to Ayckbourn’s very own theatre: keep ticket prices low.

At the sleeping director’s theatre, the actors were flailing (literally and metaphorically) at one of the theatre’s classics, with little apparent understanding of their roles or the driving engine of the play. However, what really stuck in the craw was all the money spent on the set design, a representation of a home in the countryside. The theatre appeared to use unreasonably expensive materials for the most elegant, richly apportioned house possible to insist we take their work seriously. Too bad, then, that the written play is about three characters who are desperate to get out of a run-down, isolated, and confining home. Ooops. Only surprise was that someone in the audience didn’t yell out, “why in god’s name do you want to leave!”

This led to another violation of Ayckbourn’s rules, or at least learned lessons: create an event for the present, not for posterity.

The sleeping director’s theatre will look great when the production photos are taken and then hung in the theatre’s hallway, printed in a theatre magazine, and shown in his portfolio. Unfortunately, for his audience, theatre takes place in the present, not the past.

Theatre is like fruit: when it goes bad, it is really rotten; but, when it is fresh and ripe, it can be the most nutritious and wondrous experience.

This is what compels us to sit in the dark.

- Bill Reichblum

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