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July 16, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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School, Screens, Theatre & The Necessity Of Moving

Those of us who ran the NCEA Drama gauntlet will probably know what theatre looks like when it is filmed. For the purposes of moderation and prosperity every cringe-inducing internal was committed, warts and all, to a dedicated DV Tape marked “Yr 12 2008 2.6 Mapaki” or something similar. Before these tapes were lost forever in the depths of Chris Carter’s personal viewing library, our ever-obliging drama teachers could be coerced into letting us students review our performance. The results, invariably, were fucking awful.

Not because of the individual performances, of course. These were consistently stunning: every high-school drama class, as we well know, was a veritable bastion of undiscovered gems around which improvised genius would coalesce as though magnetically drawn (I, for one, maintain that my sassy, if slightly eurocentric, characterisation of Gina the fa’afafine in Diana Fuemana’s indictment of domestic violence Mapaki was, and shall remain, an endearing and progressive portrayal).

No, the disappointment came from the camera’s inability to adequately capture our adroit performances. All subtlety and nuance would be lost while our theatrically enlarged voice and movements (to “fill the space”, you see) came off as verbose and bombastic. That strident wide-shot remained stubbornly still, even when we would diligently “daw focus”, and of course cameras could never record the elusive, intangible, Shakespearean “presence”, a quality which we all had in abundance but which, alas, no lens or microphone can detect. Thus, NCEA taught us perhaps the most important thing about drama: theatre and film are, actually, different things.

The reason is that theatre is not designed for flat surfaces. Film is, which is why you can watch films at the cinema and also on iPhones. Novels are too, which is why you can do them on paper and on Kindles. This is also why cinemas and bookstores are losing money: because films and books can go on the internet, and you can get to the internet through flat surfaces or “screens”, and you can get to screens without moving very far from your bed. Theatre, on the other hand, is sculptural: it takes up space. In fact, it uses space to create meaning, often very cleverly. This is why you still have to move to get to theatre.

I write this because a lot of you have not moved to a theatre in too long. Some of you haven’t seen any theatre since your glory days as a student of NCEA Drama. Some of you, who fit the above two categories, will have started studying theatre this year (and no, seeing a play to write an essay on does not count as “going to the theatre”). Once upon a time you saw theatre quite often, and chances are you rather enjoyed it. It was just one of those things that happened at high school. Now, because you are not at high school, and because theatre does not happen on screens, you have stopped going.

Allow this, then, to serve as a gentle reminder to those who spend a lot of time with flat surfaces: seek out art that requires an active and bodily presence. English students, you, with your reading, are some of the worst amongst us for neglecting the theatre. Theatre students, you already know how bad you are (you can feel the Catholic guilt seeping through your body every time you open an email from BATS theatre). That Shakespearean “presence” still exits, and you can still feel it, but it happens mostly in 3D. Shakespeare wasn’t just a poet, he was a sculptor, and you don’t YouTube sculptures.

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