What makes live theater special is that it is live, that is to say, it is alive. It is live action. The experience of attending live theater may be likened to watching a glass blower blow a glass or a potter shaping a bowl on the wheel. The finished work is surely exquisite; watching it being made is an experience on another level. A beautiful painting is wonderful, of course; but watching a painter paint it over her or his shoulder gives us a special excitement that can be experienced only vicariously when inspecting the brushwork visible in the finished painting. A stuffed bird is beautiful but a live bird flutters and screeches and flies.
When motion picture was born at the turn of the last century, it was photography come alive. Performances as screen images are surely exciting enough; but next to a live event, it is only a shadow of the real event, a virtual reality. Live theater is to movies as moving picture was to photography. A circus on television is exciting enough; but attending a live circus performance is incomparable in its unparalleled thrill. A circus coming to town is an event. A field trip is hard work but it is always worth the effort.
Attending theater is so much work. The endeavor is certainly costly, not only in monetary expenses but also in time and effort. It’s a lot of time-consuming work to order subscriptions and make reservations, whether by phone, on line, via mail, or in person, and then it is more work to manage the calendar with packed schedules; but it is also hard work to ride and walk to the theater and back, often taking up an hour each way, and it is still more work to sit concentrating on the actions on the stage, sometimes at no easy hearing and viewing distance and in an uncomfortable seat. Planned and then undertaken, live theater is a labor intensive field trip.
It’s so much easier to stay in and watch television, DVD, or streamed videos in the comfort of one’s home without all this work. There are New Yorkers, of course, who, like suburbanites, prefer to relax after dinner on their favorite couch or armchair and entertain themselves with shows on television, which provide enough variety, too, and more recently DVDs and streamed movies which meet their individual taste and preferencs. They would go out only as special events on special occasions. Life is easier this way; but I insist that they are missing a lot. In the world of modern technology, virtual reality has become the norm. Those for whom canned tuna has become the norm, fresh tuna may taste strange, even unpalatable.