Friday night I attended the Brisbane Theatresports 30th Anniversary show – a celebration of improvised theatre in my fair home city. Like a Doctor Who Christmas special, it brought together several incarnations of performers, from the veterans to the young bucks, with unexpected twists and turns, and a whole lot of time travelling.
Six teams battled it out in improvised games; some were more successful than others, but all were laugh-out-loud hilarious. The show was the definition of great teamwork, with seasoned players generously helping newer talents, and some golden ‘all in’ moments flooding the stage with frenetic bodies. It was clever and chaotic, with many of the ‘offers’ deliberately cheeky for maximum impact.
Among the cast were those who perform regularly, and others who hadn’t been on stage in many years. It was similar at the bar, where audience members could be found reminiscing and reconnecting.
After the show, I chatted to one of the event organisers, blithely asking whether he’d be likely to ‘do this again’ considering the show’s evident success. “Oh no. No…no…” came the emphatic, unequivocal reply.
“No one wants a show like this when they have Netflix at home.”
I’d broken a golden rule, of course, by speaking to an event organiser too soon after the event. Pulling together a major production is a lot like having a baby – you need to wait awhile for the pain to subside before you truly appreciate how much you love it. But in our brief exchange he further articulated his position: “No one wants to see a show like this when they have Netflix at home.”
The 30th anniversary gig was always going to pull a crowd of friends, family and fans, if no one else. But it seems getting a crowd to a regular Theatresports season, or any theatre season for that matter, is increasingly difficult. There are still performers ready and willing to tread the boards, but the bored hoards are busily bingeing with bums on couches not theatre seats.
If TV and social media are the only places you go for entertainment, you are seriously missing out. Based on last Friday’s spectacle, I’m issuing a call to arms:
Here’s why you should choose Theatreports over Netflix (at least sometimes).
Making a commitment
The wonderful and terrifying thing about the way we consume media these days is that we have complete control over what we choose to watch. We pick a few genres and outlets that suit us and reinforce our own world views by following and unfollowing the messages we prefer to hear. The unhinged among us might get shouty about things that offend, but most of us will simply jog on – literally deleting people, pictures and stories that don’t pique our interest in the first 8 seconds.
Live theatre requires commitment. You need to buy a ticket, make transport arrangements, pick an outfit, maybe even get a sitter. It’s less convenient, but there is great value in learning to plan, schedule and organise. A recent study suggests that ‘lack of persistence, inattention, and impulsivity’ in children are indicators of lower quality of life in adulthood. Simply learning to wait for something is character building. And sure, you could walk out of a play if you truly didn’t like it, but you’ll almost certainly give it more than 8 seconds. And if you find it confronting, or weird, or boring, or difficult, you can’t make it go away with a swish of your index finger.
Accepting a challenge
There is also great value in challenging ourselves to try new things and exposing ourselves to new ideas. Live theatre forces you to be an active participant in the story, even if it’s only when it comes time to applaud. There’s no passive consumption of fake news here – and, even better, if you want to get shouty, you can do it at real people!
With Theatresports, participation is compulsory as the audience often contributes ideas, props or sound effects to the games. The random, uncertain nature of an unscripted performance keeps it lively and unsettling, even at its funniest. Things can go very right or very wrong.
After Friday night’s show, performer Mike Golledge, who hadn’t been on stage in around 27 years, said this…
“It felt a little like going skydiving with a parachute rig that has been sitting in the garden shed for a quarter of a century and we wouldn’t know if it would work until we were out of the plane.
However, ain’t that the fun of it all. The fear of the unknown. The confidence that if you fall your team will catch you. Or at the very least work it into the act. It’s the time on the knife edge of brilliance and disaster that makes it for player and audience alike.”
Improvisational theatre asks performers to think on their feet, work as a team, truly listen to what others are saying, grab an idea and run with it, engage with logic and rhythms and patterns, feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway … you get the idea. Whether you’re a performer or an observer, you will take away some fresh ideas and communication tactics from a Theatresports performance. #lifeskills, as the kids say.
If there’s no live theatre, there’s no more Netflix.
Actors need training. So do script writers, lighting engineers, costume designers and best boys (whatever they do). Unless you’re willing to swap an organ with someone to find true love (or some other dire reality TV scenario) you’re going to have to learn how to act if you want the lead role in a Netflix original.
It’s pretty much my standard answer whenever I’m at a BBQ trying to defend arts funding (which happens more often than you might think). Enjoying that hipster beer bottle label, or novelty apron, or Potato Salads Of The World recipe book? Thank a designer! Listening to the latest cooler-than-thou indie tunes while you turn the snags? Thank a music teacher!
When we stop buying theatre tickets, the powers that be start removing the arts from our schools, universities and public spaces, and the whole world turns as grey as those cheap steaks you’re burning.
“It’s the time on the knife edge of brilliance and disaster that makes it for player and audience alike.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-social media and I’m certainly not anti-Netflix. Heck, I’ve got Season 5 of Orange queued up for a serious couch session as soon as I’ve finished this blog. But I choose not to swap one for the other, or neglect one because the other is easier. I don’t want everything I think or do to be ‘easy’ or ‘convenient’. Sure, it might be a ‘first world’ kind of knife edge, but if we don’t walk it occasionally, we’ll all surely be forked.
I recommend checking your local what’s on guides for Theatresports or other theatre events (or comedy or music – it’s all good) this weekend! Try something new. Netflix will still be there when you get home.