By Peter Michael Marino @blackoutpete
Your online theater show? Yeah. It’s not theater.
I don’t care if what you think you’re doing is theater. It’s not. I went to a state school in Buffalo for four years to learn about theater. I’ve been to many theaters many times in many places around the world. I’ve even performed in theaters around the world. I also read a number of informed Twitter posts from theater lovers and theater writers about what theater is. So, I know what theater is and your online theater show is not theater.
Theater takes place in a shared space. That’s it. That’s how it’s been done since…a really long time ago. The actors can see, hear, and feel the audience. The audience can see, hear, smell, and feel each other. And the audience can see, hear, empathize with, react to, applaud for, and feel the actors on the stage. Well, they can’t actually feel the actors, but they can feel the emotions of the characters that the playwright wrote that the actors are portraying, and then they feel what the actors are pretending to feel. Together. That’s theater.
I can’t feel anything watching you perform on a computer screen. It’s not a real shared space. Even if thousands of other people are watching. It’s a screen. There’s some kind of glass thingy separating us, like those old porn booths on 42nd Street. I never felt anything in those booths except shame.
Conversely, I have felt something watching Hollywood blockbuster movies on a big multiplex screen. I’ve been emotionally engaged with my 43” plasma TV screen viewing Bravo reality shows about wealthy wives in major cities. I’ve been on the edge of my tablet with streaming Netflix fantasy shows about dragons. And I’ve even ugly-wept onto my germ-laced iPhone during covid-related insurance commercials.
But I cannot feel anything watching a performance on a computer screen. And anyone who says they’ve felt something watching a computer screen performance is lying. I mean, look at the international hoax that’s preventing us from going to the theater. Lying is so now.
These people who champion watching online theater are liars. They weren’t entertained. They weren’t moved. They didn’t feel like they were a part of something. It’s not possible. Unless they watched the online pre-recorded “Phantom of the Opera” where the plummeting chandelier felt like it was actually crashing through their iPads. Or, unless they watched those online plays where everyone is in a digital box; like Richard Nelson’s Public Theater-commissioned, critically acclaimed, possibly pre-recorded Zoom play where privileged family members reminded us of the horrors of the virus in jaunty conversation. Or, unless they viewed the pre-taped, online “Bombshell” concert. Oh, how I laughed and cried during that one. That’s because I already know these people. I mean, characters. I mean, I don’t know the actors or characters in real life, but I know them from my TV screen where they made me laugh and cry for a few seasons a few years ago.
I do not know these online show performers. Who are they? No one knows them. Their friends and family members are the only ones who know about their “online theater shows.” They can’t even get these placeholders for real theater shows listed alongside well-known artists and arts institutions in newspapers, blogs, websites, magazines, and podcasts. Losers! How can I feel for these unknown performers who aren’t listed and asking for donations to watch them perform? Hello? The Kennedy Center is hurting. Give them your stimulus check.
I want to be in an actual theater, dammit. I want to pay hundreds of dollars and ticketing fees to squeeze my ever-expanding covid-butt into a small seat next to a total stranger who’s eating candy, wiping their nose, and checking their text messages for 2.5 hours. I need to experience a show from the front row of the orchestra so I can really feel the rumble of the timpani during the 11 o’clock number. Heck, even watching a show through opera glasses from the house right back row of the balcony of the Lunt-Fontanne on Broadway is more intimate and personal than watching a human being share a live story with the world on a screen two feet away from me, no matter how compelling, original, funny, relatable, or professional that performance is. Because it’s not theater.
I don’t want to use my own bathroom during a break. I want to wait in a never ending public restroom line only to miss the top of Act 2.
I don’t want to grab a cheap beer from my fridge in the next room (or from the new mini fridge under my desk). I want to spend $19 on a branded, plastic tumbler of Yellow Tail Chardonnay. Hold the ice.
I don’t want to be alone on my Ikea couch in Chelsea. I want to be in the middle of Times Square, mingling with the rest of middle America.
I don’t want to discover someone new. If they aren’t a star by now, they’ll never be — what with Broadway, the West End, and Hollywood halting all shows. I want to see established stars.
And most of all, I do not want to spend any more time on any kind of screen.
According to my phone data, I’m averaging almost six hours a day by either reading important political posts on Facebook, following the threads of controversial political figures on Twitter, or viewing thought-provoking stories on Instagram with enhanced graphics, and deep diving into the newish world of TikTok — where dancing families provide hours of entertaining lip-syncs and kitchen sink comedy skits. That stuff is entertaining. I don’t have the time or interest in your phony theater show. Because it’s not real theater.
I didn’t even want to write this piece that forced me to stare at my laptop screen for over an hour when I could’ve been gleefully watching a “Glee” cast reunion, or the Royal Opera House’s “Cinderella” (a timely tale about a single gal who can’t leave her house), or a taped K-pop boy band concert from 2017.
So. Many. Choices.
I don’t even know why you are reading this. It’s not real writing. It’s not a groundbreaking issues play. It’s not a sensational, historical screenplay. It’s not a steamy summer novel about Silicon Valley. It’s not a bloody New York Times article about the meat industry. It’s not a puff piece in People Magazine about Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos sheltering in place in the Caribbean. It’s 1,125 meaningless words from an unknown, middle-aged gay guy in a rent-stabilized apartment in mid-Manhattan. On Medium.
This is not writing. And what you are watching is not theater.
Peter Michael Marino is currently performing online live adaptations of his long-running stage shows “Desperately Seeking the Exit” and “Show Up, Kids!” Do not visit www.petermmarino.com to purchase tickets.