What is 'theatre'?

Victoria Martin, 13 July 2012

Vicky called the session. I've worked in the museum sector for over 12 years but have recently got a job working at a theatre, I start in 3 weeks. So what is theatre?

What do you want it to be? (Phil) He doesn't often work actually in a theatre but does work in non traditional venues, schools etc, it might be a play but it also could be part of a procession or an installation…

Is ‘theatre’ the building? Digital media changes how an audience gets involved. A building is limiting and so is the traditional concept of ‘theatre’

Is the terminology restrictive? Not just the term ‘theatre’ but also linked language e.g. ‘writer’, a writer writes a play but a theatre creator could sketch out a concept for improvisation or write a play.

Has the audience caught up with how theatre professionals see ‘theatre’? No. Maybe we need to change how we engage with audiences and particularly how we find audiences. There are changing attitudes to what theatre is. Emma enters session.

Phil- “theatre is an event”

Emma- “theatre is a way of expressing yourself” helps with confidence, be whatever you want to be. It is nice to see people expressing themselves in different ways, it doesn't need to be in a building it can be in the open air. Jill enters session and adds that it is also a way of helping you to understand other people. Value in both being a part of it and seeing it. Last 10 yrs has seen shift from seeing a play at the theatre to seeing ‘theatre’. Emma thought learning about all that encompasses ‘theatre’ helps you to understand and appreciate it, more visibility of what goes into it needed.

Jill- “theatre is a human instinct to tell stories”, all people are storytellers but don't realise they are doing it, eg when telling people about our day etc. It needs giving back to people as it's a traditional skill.

Does funding dictate what and who you can do? If funding is restricted will outreach etc be lost and traditional ‘theatre’ be the focus as that is what brings in the money?

Is theatre a closed group? Young people still think you have to ‘get into it’ or ‘ break into it’. Is it intimidating to ‘outsiders’, people don't need to ask permission to be part of it, but do they realise that?

Mark and Susan join the session. Talk goes back to terminology. Drama- (in education terms) is about acting and Theatre is about a space for performing.

Susan talks about a recent project working with performers and allotment locals, doing a reinterpretation of King Lear to talk about regeneration. The project culminates in a meal, reselling of King Lear with professional actors and non professionals, someone described it as a ‘community ritual’. It helps to interpret Modern issues through theatre.

Mark thinks sharing is a big part of it, could be a meal, a performance, a procession, sharing stories. Theatre transcends time, simple performances that used to fascinate cavemen, still have their place to fascinate today. Emily, Abbie and Emily join the session.

Susan thinks that the word ‘theatre’ may be the problem. “there is no name for what I do, as people may not engage with it (the name).” People like labels and neat packages, which is not flexible enough for what theatres do… It's not always what the Arts Council says it is, it's what ‘we’ say it is.

So here's some words that summarise the discussion on what session what ‘theatre’ is… Terminology, participation, traditional/ non traditional, funding, education/ understanding/ expressing, theatre professionals/audience/ collaboration, flexibility…


terminology, professionals, Collaboration, Theatre, Audience, flexibility, education, traditional, audience, participation, Funding, funding, collaboration, understanding, theatre, non traditional, expressing