I had a singularly remarkable experience this weekend.
Let me begin by saying that I am slightly embarrassed to admit to the topic of this blog, but I should likely be upfront about my shortcomings. I am an intelligent, beautiful and oh-so-modest woman, but I do have certain faults of character which simply cannot be helped. I am addicted to shopping, I love to eat chocolate, and I love bad pop music.
It is this last flaw which is about to become pertinent to our conversation. Please don’t judge me. Or if you do at least stick with me long enough so that I can explain myself.
This past Saturday at Radio City Music hall I was able to attend a concert. Not just any concert, a concert involving a certain pop super-star native of New York who is infamous for her over-the-top fashion decisions and her crazy house beats.
I won’t stand up for her music (though I firmly believe that, while certainly not “high art” it does hold its own on the music scene), I won’t even give you a lecture about where she went to school (NYU and almost Julliard), but I will say that this woman is horrendously talented. For two hours she put forth a high-energy performance; singing, dancing, doing at least eight costume changes, all the while adoring her fans as much as they adored her.
While I danced in Radio City, I couldn’t help but stand back and marvel at a few pertinent items.
The seating capacity of Radio City is 6,000. The concert was sold-out. So that is 6,000 people (most of them strangers to each other) dancing, singing, and enjoying one event. This event, a show of dramatic theatrics, is quite possibly the modern-day equivalent to the Elizabethan theatre.
In the days of Dear William, going to the theatre was an all-day occasion. The masses would turn out, from commoner to Queen, to gather in one playhouse and witness the theatrical event. Food and drink were sold to the assembly from wandering merchants. The performance lasted as long as there was daylight (remember, this was in an era before such inventions as electricity and indoor playhouses). More than this, the audience was expected to interact with the show. Booing and hissing the villains, cheering the lovers, and making all kinds of disorderly messes of themselves when the clowns came on. The theatre was more than entertainment, it was a makeshift community, an experience which brought people from all walks of life and the social ladder together.
This is not the case of modern theatre. The modern theatre is often viewed as an “uppity”, “classy” or “prissy” joint. It is highbrow, entitled. Expected conduct at the theatre has changed accordingly. It is considered impolite to interact with the play beyond the occasional laugh or bout of applause. We are more mild-mannered theatergoers, unwilling to break free from the current standard of interacting with our enterainment.
And what is that standard? By far, the most common form of mass entertainment today is television. Television creates a private entertainment experience, no longer a community but rather something we do alone. Moreover, television feeds us entertainment. It dishes out entertainment to us in controlled portions, carefully doled in measured segments. We are not expected to give anything back to the television nor are we expected to interact with it, we are merely expected to sit and be entertained.
The movies are the step between television and theatre. A movie theatre creates a passive viewing experience in a community environment. Unless you live in New York City, it is unlikely that you have ever been to a movie where shouting at the screen was expected (or even encouraged). Certainly we have cross-overs from the movies to theatre (such as the timeless tradition of shadow-casting The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but such experiences are exceptions rather than the rule.
The concert-going experience demands feedback. We sing along, we dance, we shout things at the stage. Moreover, we do so in a group of people who have connected with us on a certain level; the attendees of a concert presumably have one thing in common: the music. You will certainly find a different demographic bopping along to Billy Joel than you will to the aforementioned pop star whose concert I attended.
Now don’t get me wrong, likely the closest modern equivalent to Elizabethan theatre is a sporting event, but as yours truly really sees no value in grown men flinging balls at each other I won’t be speaking on them.
Oh, and of course, there is this.