By Zander Brietzke
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Extra info for American Drama in the Age of Film
Compared to ﬁlm, theater is wholly artiﬁcial. Whether in Joplin, Missouri, or New York, New York, an audience applauds when the houselights dip and the stage lights come up on a scene that looks “real” and recognizable. In the nineteenth century, Americans paid money to see moving dioramas of familiar places, so the trompe l’oeil standard of scenic art should surprise no one. Audiences applaud that which looks very much like something they have already seen. It must be hard to duplicate real life, such applause seems to suggest.
Accepting Tucker’s breakdown for a moment, ﬁlm acting would seem to have much greater ﬂexibility (changing from shot to shot) and range (the close-up is not even an option for the theater) than acting onstage. The problem with his analogy is that while the ﬁlm actor adjusts a performance for each shot, the eventual audience sees only one shot at a time during the sequence of the ﬁlm. In the theater, the actor must scale a performance for the size of the theater, surely, but in any space, 20 / Chapter 2 big or small, the actor has to convey the honesty and integrity of the performance simultaneously to the person sitting in the orchestra pit as well as on the back row of the theater.
In a letter to a friend in 1932, Artaud concludes, “The true purpose of the theater is to create Myths, to express life in its immense, universal aspect, and from that life to extract images in which we ﬁnd pleasure in discovering ourselves” (Theater and Its Double 116). Joseph Chaikin, a pioneer of off-off Broadway in the 1960s in America and a disciple of Artaud in the sense of working for an ensemble-based theater independent of a prescribed text by an outside author, echoed a similar formulation of the purpose of theater in his chronicle The Presence of the Actor (1972): “The theater, insofar as people are serious in it, seems to be looking for a place where it is not a duplication of life.