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Monday, April 02, 2007

The Road to Crap

I've just finished reading a story in today's New York Times about a new blending of technology with theater that, in the words of George Spigott in the original Bedazzled, "fills me with inertia."

A couple of dingbats, working independently of one another, have come up with a way to have a projected image of an actor appear onstage with the actor himself. Now, that alone is an old conjurer's trick and no great shakes. It's the addition of software that can control the video image so that the image can react to the live person. Sounds neat, doesn't it? Here's why it isn't:

This kind of invasion of theater by technology never results in a better product. It merely results in a slicker visual experience that is usually used to hide the paucity of artistic value in the project as a whole. And then the next project is chosen because it will support the gimmickry and the whole of theater is given over to empty spectacle and a sackful of magic tricks.

How do I know this? I this because that is how it has always been. In my own lifetime, I've seen the entire musical form be debased by the amazing sets and pyrotechnics of Les Miserables and the collected works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Don't believe me? Ask anyone who has gone to see Les Miz or Phantom what they liked about it best, and I'll give you a dollar if the first thing that comes out of their mouths isn't a tribute to the sets.

The problem that modern American theater has is that serious theater is pretentious and everything else is empty show. They try to compete with movies by being just as lame and laden with special effects, and both lose audience to the medium that's least likely to indulge in special effects: TV.