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September 16, 2007


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Hi, Kris -

Great post! I just have a quick question about your definition of "spectacle" in the world of a play and theatre. The only play I've seen in your list so far is Soiree Dada, but I wouldn't categorize it completely as "spectacle" although it did have certain elements that help with that definition. For example, Soiree Dada didn't have a direct plot, nor did it have specific characters of consequence (although Dada Dabo (Jen Elison) would probably quietly yell in my ear on that one). A big aspect of spectacle is that it often doesn't have significant language, which I think the Dada show certainly did. It contained some amazing, thought-provoking, poignant monologues and scenes, mixed into their controlled chaos. I think the show could safely be mingled with a little bit of the "theme" category and "language" category of a play's predominant elements because so much of the creation of the piece revolved around the written word.

I agree with you though ... it didn't have a central plot revolving around central characters, but I think it's definitely on a higher mental level than just spectacle. I still consider it a proper play that's executing traditional play elements in a non-conventional way.

Theatre should always contain at least one of the primary elements: plot, character, theme, language or spectacle. Some plays just have one aspect - others (like Shakespeare) have all the elements.

Thanks again for posting this! It got my brain a-ticking and made me think back to some of my directing classes in college where we discussed this at great length.


Kris Vire

Rebecca, the definition of "spectacle" as I'm using it here is pretty loose—I think what I'm getting at is that the shows I mention have a stronger emphasis on style than on storytelling. I don't mean to suggest that there's no substance to them. But DADA seems pretty clearly to be about style over plot; although each of the DADAs has a personality (or a character, if you prefer), their characters don't progress. Down(sized) is similar in that each actor is assigned a character "type," but there's no progression; it's not a typical plot.

Eat the Runt and The Magnificents have more concrete versions of what my college acting and directing professors called "A-to-B progressions," but both shows are more focused on style than on plot—in Runt, it's the casting gimmick; in Magnificents, it's the repurposing of classic magic tricks. (What I've seen of Noir suggests that it will fall in this category as well.) It just got me thinking about the ways in which "theater" encompasses so much more than what we traditionally have thought of as "theater." I would be more honest, more often, by saying I was going to see "a show" than "a play," and I was struck by that difference last night.


I think you have a really good point with style and I was just thinking ... do you think these shows could be repeated by other theatre companies or do you think that only these particular theatres can do the shows you're seeing in the moment ... could WNEP do the Magnificents? Could the House do Soiree Dada? Or do the shows need their producing company's styles to really communicate what they're trying to say, which makes them different then shows you can get the rights for from Samuel French or Dramatists?

Joel Farthing

Thanks for the nod, Kris

(- the married cousin)

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  • Kris Vire
    I write about theater for Time Out Chicago. I write more about it here.

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