When does trying to be real backfire and become realistic?
I guess this is the journey I’ve been on in the theatre these past seven years. I started out as a director trying to make everything on stage seem as realistic as possible. I remember the first play I wrote, we figured out how to make a mad-scientist labratory for one scene, complete with a shelf with all kinds of stuff on it, to a house and office in the next scenes. The backbreaking work between the scenes was ridiculous and we made the audience have to wait between set changes. But hey, it was realistic.
The next year, I decided to paint backdrops to bring realism into the set, so for the scene with a farmer, we had an elaborately drawn backdrop with a meadow and trees and etc… we tried to be real and we ended up looking rather ridiculous. I’m pretty sure everyone could tell that it was not an actual meadow.
Slowly and surely I began to understand that it is much less about the set and backdrop and much more about the script and actors. Seems obvious, I know, but I’m a slow learner. I’ve really learned this with my drama group The RLT Players. We started performing dramatic sketches three years ago with no or minimal props. I never knew a wooden box for be so many things. And you know what, it works because the audience buys into the realism of the actor’s performance. It’s theatre, after all. It’s not the movies.
And this is one thing I’ve learned to love about the theatre. On stage, you can be standing on a black piece of wood, but you can convince the audience that you are flying through the air, or being attacked by a dragon, or being over-run by an angry mob. In theatre, less really is more.
Of course there are the multi-million dollar productions which can up the ante on realism and dazzle with special effects. But for me, I’ve come to enjoy the simplicity of an empty stage and a talented actor. It allows the audience’s imagination take over and whisk people on journeys they never thought possible.
That is the magic of live theatre.
Everything doesn’t have to be real in order to have realism.