This week on everyone’s favourite Youth Theatre blog we have Andy McLoughlin telling us what exactly he makes of the mad world of theatre!
Theatre is one of those cultures like hip-hop or orgies that you don’t really know about until you’re actively involved. Generally, people have some images and ideas in their mind of what it and the people who are part of it are like, but you can’t be sure until you make that leap and find out for yourself. With theatre it can be easy to make generalisations based on a small, but no less real minority (as with hip-hop). It can also be a daunting task to look too closely and find out what the experience is really like (as with orgies). So in this blog post I’m going to do my best to clear the mist and correct some misconceptions. To sort the Lil Waynes from the Tupacs and the bath houses from the key parties.
4. It’s hella cheap to make
A low budget movie these days costs more to make than most people will earn in 10 lifetimes. You know Carnage? That film set in one room with four actors? $25,000,000. Avatar cost at least $232,000,000: almost twice Ireland’s entire arts budget for 2014. The movie Reservoir Dogs was a directorial debut featuring mostly unknown actors, with a run time of under 100 minutes and it cost $1,500,000. I recently starred in a production put on by my friends that cost around 500 euro.
So why is theatre so inexpensive? Well there are a lot of reasons. First of all, there are a whole lot of expenses you just don’t have to worry about with theatre. From shooting on location, to marketing, to providing your movie stars with a plentiful supply of cocaine. With theatre you can ask so much more of the audience in terms of expectations. The One Man Star Wars show is exactly what it sounds like: a guy in black clothes with no props jumping about a stage and enacting the entire Star Wars Trilogy in an hour. If you tried to do that with film, people would ask for their money back.
What’s more, the low budget nature of theatre gives you way more room to be creative and innovative than most of what’s happening in the movie industry right now. It costs $6,000,000 in prints to distribute a movie to 3,000 screens (there are 37,000 in America alone), so big time executives aren’t likely to invest if they don’t think it’ll sell. In 2014, that usually means the movie poster has to contain the words, “Adam Sandler is back. And this time Batman’s also involved.” With theatre, funding usually comes from the government, who apparently aren’t as concerned with earning money. In fact, and don’t quote me on this, I think you could go your entire life and not see a single play featuring either Batman or Adam Sandler.
Finally, this creative freedom is what allows you to skimp on the budget. You don’t have to show a ship travailing an entire ocean, rendered in such gloriously expensive high definition that it puts special effects studios out of business (1). Instead, you just make a bunch of extras stand next to each other in a sort of V-shape and Bam! You’ve got the bow of a ship. Everything can be made more abstract on stage to meet practical purposes, which can make it easy to forget that…
3. Theatre people aren’t pretentious (at least the good ones anyway.)
There are a lot of great people who work on the shows we see in theatres. Many of them are funny, or talented, or passionate, and at least one of them can make you a damn fine puppet out of sponge. What almost none of them are is cool.
To be cool is to be above the situation. To seem effortless, usually at the cost of putting any actual effort in. I have no patience for this kind of pretentiousness. Cool people are never wrong because they’re too busy not having to justify themselves to ever say anything of substance, good or bad. To contribute anything to a project, you risk falling flat on your face. It’s so much easier not to make that leap, and expect people to assume you would’ve said something smart, than to take that fall and pick yourself up and jump again.
The people I know in drama (they’re the good ones, I’m sure other youth theatres are full of smelly poos) are never cool. They’re always willing to say something stupid on the off chance it might actually be something smart. The next time you hear about a pretentious piece of performance art, where sixteen people cover themselves in paint and wail, all to represent the theme of loss of innocence, remember this: somebody had to have that idea. Then they had to show that idea to fifteen other people, and those fifteen people had to agree to perform that piece in front of a bunch of strangers, knowing that one of those strangers could just dismiss all their work, simply by using the word “pretentious”.
2. Drama’s a thing you can study in college, and people will take you seriously if you do.
This isn’t like a huge misconception that people have about the theatrical community or anything, it’s just something I knew nothing about until I started doing drama. I was doing it for like a month and someone from drama turned to me and went, “so do you want to do drama in college?” as if he wasn’t asking me about one of the biggest decisions of my life or anything. Seriously though, why the hell do people think that’s small talk?
But I digress. The point is that people see this as a genuine academic field worth spending years of your life studying and won’t bat an eyelid if you do too. I don’t think anybody can know for sure whether or not any college course is worth the time, but it’s definitely worth noting that there’s an entire subspecies of humanity (drama people) who genuinely believe this one is.
I’m not qualified to make a case for or against arts degrees. I’m still telling people I want to be a fireman when I’m older. But when most people ask you what you want to do when you’re older, nine times out of ten they’re not just asking you that question. They’re also asking you about what your economic ambitions are, how well you think you’re going to do in your leaving cert, where your academic talents lie, and a million other questions you couldn’t possibly answer. When people ask you specifically if you want to study drama, they’re asking you completely different questions. They’re asking how much you want it. They’re asking you if you’re willing to make a hobby into a lifestyle. They’re definitely not asking you if you have any economic ambitions, that’s for damn sure.
1. I still don’t know what theatre is
It seems obvious right? It’s in the title of this blog. Just a bunch of people on a stage performing a script with words and actions that tell a story, right? So what the hell is mime? That doesn’t have a script or a stage. You can also have site specific productions like “The Street,” or audience interactive shows like “Fused”. And that’s not even getting into improv or stand-up. But isn’t the whole world a stage? (2)
Not to go all “theatre is what you make of it” on your ass or anything, but theatre totally is what you make of it. So maybe it’s not so terrible that I don’t know what theatre is. Going into theatre with no expectations seems to be the best way to go. If you can do what you want with theatre, and do it cheaply, and do it with a bunch of other people serious enough to do it in college, then that’s just fine. Then again, if you replace the word “theatre” with “recreational drugs” in that last sentence it still makes sense. Act responsibly kids. (3)
(1) http://www.npr.org/2013/03/19/174703202/visual-effects-firms-miss-out-on-a-films-success (case in point).
(2) It definitely isn’t. I learnt that the hard way when I did my one man rendition of The Lion King in my local library. I got kicked out about halfway through the opening lines of The Circle of Life.
(3) Get it? Act? I’m sorry.