For thousands of years the orthodox dogmas in the world of theatre have given actors and directors a privileged position, able to impose their own interpretations on the material. Many actors have employed this privilege to indulge in power-trips in which they demand slavish attention from their audiences, even prohibiting the use of mobile devices and multitasking activities during a theatrical “performance”. But a brave new movement is challenging this orthodoxy, empowering theatre-goers as co-creators of the drama and transforming the nature of theatre. A pioneer in the new “flipped theatre movement”, Prof. Nicholas Bottom, Director of the Association for Sylvan Studies, explains the philosophy behind it.
“Instead of paying to sit passively watching a bunch of actors grandstanding on the stage for hours at a time, audiences are encouraged to view clips from a movie version of the play beforehand and bring their reactions to the theatre to share with the cast. There are many advantages to watching a video rather than a live play. The production budgets are much higher; the viewers can pause and rewind it when there’s something that doesn’t make sense first time round; and most importantly they’re free to watch it at any time — in the bath, on the bus, in the corner of the screen while catching up with Facebook in a crowded coffee shop — rather than being forced to sit in an environment with no other sources of stimulation. It all leads to a richer, more three-dimensional learning experience which is thoroughly embedded in students’ real lives.”
The new movement has met with predictable resistance from established actors, who as Prof. Bottom explains are motivated by laziness and a complete lack of understanding of human psychology.
“If human beings were really interested in sitting spellbound listening to an accomplished performance from experts who have thought deeply about their source material and how to present it in an engaging manner, then how would we explain the fact that this has been going on for millennia? In any case, the weight of anecdote suggests that even if this was how human beings had worked until very recently, the advent of wireless technology and social media have caused fundamental changes to our neurology, necessitating a new mode of crowdsourced interaction with dramatic material.”
Asked whether theatre-goers could equally well be advised to read the script before attending a production as to watch a film, Prof. Bottom responded robustly. “Of course we can’t ask them to read a script. Scripts are old-fashioned, undemocratic and completely unfit for edutainment in the world of digital natives 2.0. Plus they require the audience to be able to read.”