Theatre Design & Technology - Feb 1969 - 18

actor before a live theatre audience is undoubtedly even better. But to have Twain
himself before us in the flesh would undoubtedly be best of all. These are real and
important distinctions between different levels of experience; and it is dangerous for
both prototype and facsimile to ignore them.
On the basis of recent American experience,
we have every reason to be distrustful of
the electronic facsimile: its tragic vulnerability to commercial manipulation, exploitation and adulteration. It is quite true that
modern telecommunications, carrying visual
and aural facsimiles, make possible the sharing of theatrical, musical and balletic events
with much larger audiences than ever before. But not, as we have seen, without
profound attenuation of the line of communication between performer and spectator. The greatest danger is the most familiar: in preparing the form for reproduction,
the entrepreneur inevitably modifies the
form itself. His motives for this modification may be either valid or venal. But, in
either case, they are altogether extraneous to
the esthetic requirements of the form itself
and, consequently, hostile to its esthetic
integrity. Thus the stage play is "cut" to
meet the time modules of broadcasting and
to permit the interjection of commercials.
It is "adapted" to form musicals or movies
which are, in turn, further "processed" for
telecasting. Musical compositions may get
responsible handling at the hands of some
recording companies, but the records and
tapes themselves will be amenable to needless manipulation. The results are often
stupefying: a single composition can be "excerpted" to serve as a "theme song" for a
movie or a "signature" for a telecast, or
cut up into easily digestible bits to form
"mood music" for dining, dancing, or "just
Even when mass production of the facsimile leaves the original work unaltered and
intact, it raises another danger. Heedless
repetition of the form ends by emptying it
of its emotional force. Overfamiliarity with
a work of art reduces its cultural potency,
ultimately destroys its capacity to move us.
There is some upper limit of multiplication
beyond which prints of Van Gogh's Sunflowers or broadcast recordings of Tchaikovsky's poignant concertos become just
soiled cliches. The very vocabulary of critical
discussion is weakened: tragic comes to
mean merely sad (lost pet, fallen breasts)
and comic comes to describe the witless
violence of Orphan Annie or Steve Canyon.

All these may be tendencies which cannot
be stopped or reversed; it may even be that
the benign aspects will ultimately cancel out
the negative; that, through some internal
balance wheel in cultural development, we
can win through to a new and higher level
of popular taste. But if so, an indispensable
requirement will be the preservation and intensive cultivation of the prototypal experience as the standard of value against
which all variations can be judged. For the
performing arts, this prototype will be what


it has always been: (1) a play (or ballet,
opera, symphony) performed by live artists
before (2) a live audience with (3) the
whole process contained in a building especiallydesigned to meet its requirements.
And the performer, for his fullest development, requires this prototypal experience
quite as much as his audience. How else,
except by a continual confrontation of his
audience? An electronic audience may support the movie star in style but he can
never speak to them except through the
monitored facsimile of film and they can
never answer him except by fan mail and
gate receipts. The TV actor may often perform before a live studio audience; but,
ironically, commercialized technology is able
to deform his relationship at another level.
The producer uses this studio audience as
merely another prop, like sets or music, to
be manipulated in the telecast. The real
audience before the flickering screen is exposed to a facsimile audience whose response can be magnified, dubbed-in or even
faked, as the scandals of several years ago
A steadily diminishing proportion of professional performing artists spend a decreasing amount of time before a live audience.
There are two consequences of this technological attrition, economic and artistic.
The first is serious enough. The second is,
if possible, even worse, as many testified
at the Congressional hearings on the status
of the performing arts in the U.S. Said Roy
Harris, the famous American composer:
Most of our gifted composers (are forced) into the
position of being amateur. By .amateur' I by no
means intend to imply any lack of talent, training or
accomplishment. I mean that these composer's prime
efforts and best hours are given in service to those
secondary positions which sustain them economically
... Each new generation of composers is more helpless than their predecessors ... One of their great
prabl ems is to hear their own music rehearsed and
performed. You cannot become a fine craftsman if
you do not hear your works performed.

Agnes DeMille, the well-known dancer and
choreographer, made much the same point
in even more poignant terms:
The ballet theatres for the most part exists as private
charities, on a hand-to-mouth basis. . But the choreĀ·
ographer has to work on live bodies. He cannot do
it on paper. (He) needs live bodies, and real space
and some sort of rhythmic beat. And eventually he
needs a theatre so the work can be seen... there is
very little immortalitY for work that cannot be seen.
(We) must have some place where absolutes are
learned, where big challenges are attempted, where
the unknown is braved. That is not to be found in
The Ed Sullivan Show_

And the dancer, Melissa Hayden, testified
eloquently to the difficulties of becoming
a professional ballerina:
I first wanted to study ballet at the age of 9 but my
family could not afford the cost of the lessons ... 1
received no inspiration, no guidance and no exposure
to the other performing arts ... There are two essentials to mature as an artist-simultaneous study and
directed performance. In my day there was no place
in the United States where both could be had simulĀ·
taneously, and few places where either the one or
the other could be obtained.

All the evidence indicates that American
society needs a living theatre-multi dimensioned, professional, economically se-

cure and properly housed. This would be
true even if the democratic masses wanted
nothing more than privatized facsimiles for
their daily fare. In fact, it would be more
true than ever because ultimately every reproduction, facsimile or duplicate must derive from a living unique original.
The foregoing may appear to be a most
round-about way of establishing criteria for
theatre vuilding design. But it seems to me
necessary to reformulate these fundamental
propositions today, when many modern theatres (like much modern architecture) abound
in the frivolous, the idiosyncratic and the
arbitrary. Despite the fact that the technical
means at the disposal of the architect are
incomparably higher than ever before, he is
producing new theatres whose over-all performance is less satisfactory than many built
centuries ago. Th is paradoxical state of affairs is due to his having uncritically accepted the pretensions of technology, on the
one hand, and indulging himself in subjective, formalistic design decisions, on the
other. Architecture is no longer the exclusive
province of one man, the architect: he shares
the field with a broad range of specialistsacoustical, illuminating, air conditioning and
structural engineers. Their very presence on
the scene permits the architect to work in
broader and more daring terms than hitherto,
since responsibilities formerly his alone can
now be delegated to these specialists. But
these experts lack a common conceptual approach to what I have called the experiential
aspects of architecture. The environmental
requirements of the putative playgoer are
studied, but studied piece-meal, each by the
appropriate specialist. These components
are not often reintegrated into a satisfactory
total environment. Thus we find serious
acoustical malfunction in new theatres, like
the Philharmonic and New York State Theatre in Lincoln Center, even though some of
the leading acoustical engineers in the country had been involved from the very first.
The modern architect has a critically important responsibility here-and too often fails.
One reason for this is that, in his work, the
appearance of things tends to carry aweight
in decision-making which is quite disproportionate to its objective importance. Being
himself a visual artist (a blind architect
would be a contradiction in terms) this bias
in favor of vision amounts almost to an occupational disease. Whatever complex manipulation of environmental forces he may
have in mind in a given building, his principal means of communicating his intentions
are in pictorial and plastic terms-i.e., by
means of drawings, sketches and models.
Like heliotropism in certain flowers, this
bends the design in the direction of what it
will look like to the detriment of other
values equally important but much harder to
visualize: what it will sound like, what it
will feel like, what it will smell like. Thus
the temperature and ventilation of a theatre
during a performance will playa much more
critical role in the audience's response than
the color of walls or upholstery or the
shape of the proscenium. But it is much
easier to conceptualize the curve or the color than the temperature or air movement.




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