Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Value of Theater - Us vs Us

Theater used to be much more important in the world, because, really, what else was there? There were books, but until the printing press, those were hard to come by for the masses. Theater was the form of entertainment. With the exception of plagues, which was a very stylized, highly interactive form of entertainment. And crusades. Very funny. Very physical. But I digress...

Growing up, I loved television. I grew up in a time where there was really only three television stations. A show we all loved became a weekly event that the whole family geared their evening around. I especially remember this for shows like Laugh-In, Flip Wilson and Red Skelton. On Fridays nights, mom made popcorn or toasted puffed rice and poured butter and salt on it. Good stuff.

We also went to the movies. As a family, it was a huge event. The Clinton theater downtown was huge by my standards. Sitting in a dark theater and seeing the big screen. I remember seeing Peter Pan there and being blown away. At the Clinton, there was only one screen. A major motion picture would be released and be in town for just a few weeks before moving on. If you missed it, you missed it until years later when it would come on television. And even that would be a special event.

Nowadays, I have over 500 channels on my tube and I if I am unable to make time for something, I DVR it. I can also catch it on-line. If I miss a movie upon its release, odds are it will be knocking around the multiplexes for awhile or will soon be available On Demand or on DVD. I still love television and film, but it is no longer eventful to me. It's fun. It's a diversion. It's a time killer when I am at home.

Theater is valuable today because it is an event. It is an experience that requires effort on the part of the viewer. Television, film and theater all require an investment of time and money - Comcast, Netflix and AMC ain't free. Nor is Wicked, Second City or WNEP. Theater requires me to pay attention and have faith. On the screen, big or small, the medium does all the work. The story will go on and turn out exactly as it was planned regardless of my presence. And it will do it again, over and over, in precisely the same way.

In theater, I get to discover the story. I get to see actors make discoveries. I get to be engaged. Involved. I get to look the actor in the eye and he or she gets to look back. I am not shy about laughing out loud while watching a sitcom or comedy at home. I am equally not shy in a theater, but my laughter actually makes a difference. The actors and the rest of the audience respond with it or to it. We are connected and engaged in the telling of a story that we all care about. Actors on film don't hold for laughs.

Theater is valuable because it is an event, limited in its availability, that generates a communal experience. During the time we are watching a story unfold we are all in it together. The laughter is deeper and the tears are earned and heartfelt. And during that time, we are reminded that we are human and that, in the big scheme of things, on this planet, we are also in it together.


Yesterday, I asked...

"The Viet Bistro in Chicago has countered 'no smoking' laws by serving what?"

15% said "Dip Dip"
- A better name would have been "Dip Sum."

14% said "Tobacco Dumplings"
- Try the menthol ones. Steamed.

No one got hungry for "Cigar Satay"

71% got it right with "Nicotinis"

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, there is nothing particularly sexy or cool about stepping outside to have a smoke while you're out on the town with friends or on a date. That's exactly what sommelier/bar chef Rashed Islam at Viet Bistro, 1344 W. Devon, had in mind when he introduced the Nicotini. That's right, a tobacco-infused martini. Islam's Nicotini begins with tobacco steeped sugarcane juice; he uses 2 ounces of tobacco for every gallon of juice.

Better make sure that olive is stuffed with an Altoid.

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