If I find spectacle dull, have I worked in theatre too long?

Convener(s): Anna Barrett

Participants: unknown!


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

There were two different strands to this discussion – the definition of ‘spectacle’ and the curse of the specialist practitioner, the two parts of the question.


Subjects covered were:

Is the definition of spectacle something that is inherently dull? No. So what is dull and what isn’t? examples from the group were: phantom (is) vs Robert Le Page (isn’t). Comparisons between filmic vs theatrical productions = Literal representation vs a challenge to imagination. Too much spoon-feeding of a narrative results in no leap of faith and becoming childlike as a result - achieving a wonderful spectacular outcome.

Events which emphasise the grand and visual aspects of a production are thought of as spectacles. Thinking about why I posed this question, I am a lighting designer, and as such, often get brought in at the last minute and asked to cover up a lack of direction with a spectacular lighting effect. This is often the result of a show that isn’t interesting as it has been badly constructed in development. Talked about the need for LDs and sound designers to be involved from the outset, even if they aren’t around for the devising time. This allows understanding and a much more appropriate use of technology and effects.

“The trouble with spectacle is that there is no humanity” generally agreed on by the group in a sea of subjective concepts! It is the way that the spectacle is achieved/presented that makes it either compelling or dull.  When the same formula is continually represented wrapped as a new genre it is disheartening. There is a drastic need to innovate within ‘spectacular’ genres such as musical theatre and circus.

The fact of living today is that we are continually bombarded with sex and death, porn and horror media over Andover again. What will stand out from this spectacle and move us to be interested? When this spectacle is broken somehow, and something/someone fails, then it becomes automatically more interesting when the scenario contrasted and put into the context of something more human.

Spectacle passes through fashions, and styles. Theatre is 20th century was fighting to escape naturalism, and in the 21st century, what is it aiming for? There needs to be a new criteria for spectacle that will make it relevant to this century. New skills were suggested. A conclusion of the discussion was that theatre can be validly and engagingly spectacular as long as there is a human contrast within the form to stop it from becoming dull.

A side conversation was about the curse of the practitioner. Inevitably as you see more and more work, your knowledge of performance develops, as you have experienced more of it. As a result, you will have an increasingly narrower margin of work that you find inspiring and breathtaking. I think that this must be good because it means that you will make higher quality work as your career progresses.