Why Are Commercial Theater Performances More Than One Night?Return to previous page.
Admittedly, I have asked a moronic question. Because it takes a lot of time to arrange the details for a live performance, so why waste that effort? It costs a lot of money to mount a live performance, so why waste that cash; it takes a lot of talent and specially trained people to present a live performance so why waste their time. If more people want to see the performance than the theater can hold, then you are accommodating your audience by having more than one viewing. Also, in the realm of theater critics, critics see little reason to review one-offs because they will be gone before they can be seen.
But what if a show can be assembled, rehearsed and performed in a day, costs peanuts and begs for a limited audience? What if no one cares about critics since critics exist to attract audiences after the first night? What if one wants a performance to be unique, so that, good or bad, it lingers in a specific place at a specific time and is immune from the reduction of repetition and multiplication?
What if one wants to create a legend?
When I was on the island of Delos this summer, I visited the amphitheater there. The tour guide gave a brief lecture on Greek theater and said that theater was supposed to be part of a citizen’s moral education and in fact, average citizens were paid to attend. The play was commissioned by the polis, and performed only once in competition. Of course, the guide, reassured us, if playwrights were famous (read Athenian) or if plays were unusually popular then the plays entered the canon and were performed more often.
I find a lot of authority in the idea of performing a play only once. There is an extra incentive for paying attention and an extra incentive for a focused performance. There is an extra tension to the event. This may diminish art financially since repetition and reproduction are the bases of art’s commercial worth, but this makes it a unique aesthetic experience. In a way. Greek theater sought the temporal, not the eternal. And it sought to provide an unreproducible experience for its patrons.
In a similar way, I find it useful to have people carry my work away as a special experience that becomes less about the consumption of art than about the landmarking of art. The only way the artist can protect his work is to encode it so that only he knows how it is to be enjoyed. By having only one performance of each work, I have encrypted my art.