For as much as live theatre is about the quality of specific performers or the strength of the material involved, it’s also about energy. There is an energy to song-and-dance performed onstage, and it’s an energy that has always been a central struggle for the recent revival of the live television staging of musical theatre.
Over the course of this recent trend, begun by NBC with The Sound of Music and now picked up by Fox with Grease Live, the various productions have been searching for how to tap into this energy when the conductive force of the audience is absent. The experience of seeing live theatre is in large part the experience of viewing it with other people, and not just in terms of being able to whisper reactions to the people around you. It’s about energy, a feeling in a room that you’re seeing a spectacle unfold before you or you’re being transported by an emotional ballad.
Social media can theoretically serve to bring the individual households tuned into one of these broadcasts together, but there isn’t the same type of energy, manifesting more as commentary than a natural emotional response. And while NBC’s musicals have evolved since The Sound of Music, this is one particular problem they’ve never quite solved: they have, by-and-large, been staging live theatre devoid of the energy that fuels it, hoping that what’s happening on the other side of the TV screens will cooperate without doing much to specifically address the issue. When Peter Pan build to its all-important audience participation moment, they accepted that the call would lead to no response in many cases.
And so when they announced that Grease Live would include a live audience, it seemed—on paper, at least—to be an effort to replicate this energy more directly. But whereas I imagined this as having an audience reacting to the production as one would at an actual theatrical production, it wasn’t like that at all. The vast majority of scenes went by without any audience reaction at all, with the audience only making appearances in selected large crowd scenes.
It was a decision I found confounding at first, but over time I started to realize that it was a byproduct of a central decision made by the production—led by director Thomas Kail—when it came to what they were making. Rather than a live staging of a theatrical production, Grease Live is the first real “television musical” to emerge from this era, designed from top-to-bottom to embrace the energy of watching live television.
And in the process, they managed to capture some of the energy of live theatre for good measure.
Although Christopher Nolan’s Inception introduces evidence to the contrary, in our reality dreams are a solitary experience: not only are they personal in terms of context, unique to each dreamer, but they are also personal in that only that dreamer can see the dream as it first appeared. After that point, the dreamer can only relay their memory of the events therein – memory which varies from vivid recollection to vague, disconnected images – to those around them.
And yet, Inception is very much built around the notion of shared experience, both within its story and in its clear desire for the audience to leave the theatre discussing what they just witnessed. In fact, I’m sure some would argue that the film requires this sort of discussion to truly come into its own, demanding that the audience either works with others who shared the same experience to reconstruct its intricacies from memory or to do what dreamers can’t do by going to the theatre and watching it again.
Accordingly, I have no intentions on offering a definitive take on Inception, both because I’m generally bad at developing theories and because a single viewing and an MSN conversation with my brother do not a complete understanding of the film make. Rather, I simply want to discuss how the film goes about creating this seemingly necessary sort of interaction, and why Nolan achieves this less through cheap ambiguities and more through a growing sense of uncertainty which simultaneously breaks down our reading of the film and the film itself as it reaches its conclusion.
A conclusion, by the way, which is not what it appears to be.
SPOILER WARNING: if you haven’t seen the film, and intend to in the future, and don’t want to read spoilers, stop reading.
The end of Lost is going to create a deluge of pieces celebrating the show, but it’s also going to create a lot of pieces which claim quite the opposite. I don’t want to suggest that the latter is in some way invalid, as not everyone is required to be a fan of the show, and there are plenty of arguments to be made that Lost’s success sent the other networks on a wild goose chase for a similar series which has in some ways crippled dramatic development over the past number of years.
These pieces are going to be a dime a dozen this week, but I want to make a few comments regarding Mike Hale’s piece at the New York Times, “In ‘Lost,’ Mythology Trumps Mystery,” where he makes some fairly contentious arguments. The piece, which reads as if it could be an artifact from the show’s third season as much as its sixth, makes the claim that Lost’s only good season was its first, which I would personally contest but which is Hale’s opinion. I don’t agree with his classification of the show, and I have some concerns with the way in he boils down the series to suit his argument, but he’s entitled to dislike the show as much as he likes.
However, I am personally offended at the way in which Hale attacks those people who do like the show, especially those who choose to write about it. It is one thing to say that Lost itself has failed to live up to his own expectations, but it’s quite another to make the claim that critics and fans have become sheep being led by Shepherds Lindelof and Cuse – not only is this patently untrue of critics of the series, but it is also belittling to those fans whose Lost experience has been enriched, rather than obfuscated, through the interactive experience of watching this series.
There is room for a critical analysis of the ways in which the relationship between Lost and its fans has been managed, but Hale is more interested in vilifying rather than embracing its complexity, and it makes for a frustrating piece of journalism.