August Schulenburg posts one of the best explanations I’ve read for what “the liveness of theater” actually is. Now if, unlike me, you didn’t just finish a short play two days ago dealing with quantum physics and probability waves and parallel universes, the first couple paragraphs might be harder to relate to. But do stick with it to get to this:
When we say a great actor has Presence, what do we mean? What do we mean when we say In The Moment?
I think we mean that a great actor’s performance is like that probability wave of quantum mechanics: it is both here and there, a superposition of possible states; until, acted upon by the pressures of the audience’s perception, that possibility crystalizes into a choice; and if that actor is very good, we keenly feel the current of that feedback running through each moment we make together.
So in this way, theatre is more than the observation of a human moment; it is the practice of shaping it. In this framework, the audience is participatory in more than just passive terms; they are the essential pressure which gives the play life.
The liveness of theater isn’t just about the fact that the actor can hear you when your cell phone goes off. The fun of live theater is that the energy of the room affects the performance. You are a co-creator of the event, simply by sitting there watching the show and drinking your beer and reacting.
I assume the same thing works in theaters where you can’t drink beer, but I don’t really go to those very often.