Student Voices: 21st Century theatre in the internet age | Work of Arts
Student Voices: 21st Century theatre in the internet age | Work of Arts

Student Voices: 21st Century theatre in the internet age

BFA student Jessy Ardern discusses the changing state of live theatre in a digital world, and the risks theatre needs to take in order to adapt and survive.

Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and point of views of current Arts students around campus. Get to know our creative and passionate students through their “voices” and get a snapshot of life as an Arts undergrad. The views and opinions expressed within these student voices posts are solely those of the author.

This was going to be a gentle blog entry that tastefully and thoughtfully introduced you to the BFA Acting program where I live (no one is merely enrolled there, we all to some degree live there). It was going to tastefully and thoughtfully walk you through an average day, whimsically mention the hardships of wearing a corset, and then tastefully and thoughtfully wind to a close. There are three flaws to this plan:

1. I have no taste.
2. I am not thoughtful.
3. I am scared out of my mind.

Presumably if you are reading an Arts blog, you are a Friend of the Arts — which, as far as I’m concerned, also makes you a Friend of Me. So hello.

Now we are introduced, and I’m pretty sure that means I can confide in you and tell you all sorts of personal things, such as the fact that I am going to graduate with student debt and a fine arts degree.

A Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.


Cue the sound of my mother weeping.

Image 1_sizedIf that weren’t enough to explain my fears to you, O Friend of the Arts and of Me, let me point you towards budget cuts, dwindling audiences, Netflix and a growing public doubt that theatre has any relevance in today’s society.

It is only in the last hundred years that theatre has had to compete with movies and television. It’s only in the last decade that it’s come up against its Great Nemesis, the Internet. And we can pay lip service to the theatre all we want — we can talk about how watching a live show brings an air of community and excitement; how it’s charged with life in a way that a screen can never be.

But the fact remains that for eight bucks a month I can watch a show on Netflix while staying in my pajamas and eating chocolates. And let’s not be delusional or snobbish — if I want to, I can watch something with BRILLIANT writing, FANTASTIC acting, gorgeous scores and thought-provoking themes. And when that’s available to people for practically free, with easy at-home access 24/7, the theatre has to step up its game. No, scratch that — the theatre has to change its game.

The UAlberta BFA program takes 12 people a year, which means that my classmates and I spend a lot of time talking, and a lot of time circling the same topics. Lately the question that has come up — turned over, examined, tucked away and pulled out again — in my own conversations is: what exactly are we going to do with our training? Some of my classmates are Shakespeare fans, some have musical theatre in their eyes and I don’t doubt that at least one of them will go to Berlin and do something really weird.

We need to create pieces that have to be seen in the theatre — in person, live, not on a screen.

No matter what career path we try to trace, all of us are going to have to create art that is able to defend itself. By that I mean: in the age of instant entertainment and doubts about tax money going to artists, we’re not just aiming for an evening of distracting entertainment anymore. We need to create pieces that have to be seen in the theatre — in person, live, not on a screen. Maybe it’s a show that happens all around you. Maybe it has something that you have to taste or smell. Maybe it’s a show that looks different depending on where you stand. I don’t know. I’m only sure about a few things, and they are:

1. Kill the proscenium. You know that thing where we all sit in the dark and look straight ahead at what might as well be a really good 3-D screen? F@#$ it. There’s no point. The theatre of the future will be in the round, or on an alley stage, or on a rooftop. You will not attend to be removed. You will attend to be submersed, because that is something that the Great Nemesis, the Internet, cannot truly do.

2. Kill the $70 ticket price. If we want public funding for the theatre, the public should be able to afford a ticket. If nothing else, every theatre should set aside a handful of $5 tickets for those who can’t otherwise afford them. We don’t make everyone pay for sidewalks and then limit who can walk on them.

The theatre of the future will be in the round, or on an alley stage, or on a rooftop.

3. Kill reserved politeness. If someone has made the effort to get away from a screen and come see your show, then they should feel free to gasp, laugh and otherwise react. Actually, in the ideal world, I think theatres should give everyone a free alcoholic drink at the beginning of each show — as if to say, “Welcome! Come in. Loosen up. It’s a party.”

That’s it for now. Thank you for being a Friend of the Arts. I may be wrong about everything. But I’ll keep writing anyway.


P.S. If you’re interested in a night of raucous (and free!) theatrical fun, come to the Fine Arts building on November 15th. It’s our annual Fight Night (which is exactly what it sounds like) — an evening devoted entirely to watching characters beat each other up with fists, feet, swords and daggers. It starts at 7:30 pm in the Corner Stage, admission is by donation and noise from the audience is encouraged.

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About Jessy Ardern

Jessy Ardern

Jessy is a 3rd year BFA acting student. She hails from the wintery wasteland of Winnipeg, Manitoba. When she is not busy being outraged, Jessy enjoys playwriting and making puns. She also enjoys it when people take her out to drink coffee and rant about art (she doesn't figure that anyone will actually do this, but she thinks it is worth a try).