I wrote a manifesto immediately after college. Well, let's say I started a manifesto. I didn't get more than a dozen pages out. It was intended as an exploration of what the future of performance would be in a technological age. One of my favorite things about Cornish College of the Arts was a fairly multidisciplinary approach to the education. Obviously, I had a theater not a dance education, but at various points I took dance classes and at other points I took some music theory classes. Also, there was one course that is still shaping how I see the world and performance as a whole.
Art is meant to provide a greater abundance of life, in whatever field in explores. This I learned courtesy of John Wilson by way of a reading of Erika Fischer-Lichte. Dance explores space, music does so with time time, still art (I don't like the term fine art) explores color, and drama does so with narrative. I cannot find my notes to get an accurate quote, and probably am mixing things up with her teachings. I hope I am not, and will have to I will do some digging to figure that out at some point. If I am in error, then I suppose this is my impression inspired by discussions in class and the readings we made.
Performance art itself is intended to be an exploration of the interaction between the performer and the audience. This is why the ever-infuriating response to the question, "What does it mean?" can be "What did you get from it?" This can be for a variety of pieces - absurdist theater or fiction come to mind as examples. I thought (and still think to a certain extent) that with the VR (including smell back in the 1950s) that has existed for decades, and massively multiplayer capabilities coupled with that would eventually make it so that the energetic sense of live theater would be a thing of the past. I still consider theater a more natural and engaging form of art than film, but am not entirely sure that a totally immersive world that all individuals could engage in wouldn't provide a good run for the money - even if vril, chi, spirit, or whatever may not be quite as available. Which I'm not sure it wouldn't be, considering the total engagement of the senses.
This is part of why I regret not having worked with Seattle Immersive Theater or Portland Experimental Theater Ensemble. I suppose there's still time for something of that variety. There was an adaption of One Flea Spare, by Naomi Wallace, which I assisted with when I was in school. The performance used vinegar to help draw the audience into the world of the Black Plague - it was used as disinfectant, and has a sickly smell. Perfect for the show, if you are familiar.
If theater doesn't behave in this way, how can it survive? If theater continues to be about narratives up on stage which we empathize with and gain a sense of catharsis from, how is it different from a great film? Many of the pictures produced today are just explosions and eye candy, but now and again you get something that is impossible to make on stage. One that comes to mind is the movie Loving Vincent.Hand painted frames provide the life and movement that Vincent Van Gogh is reaching for with his art style. A beautiful score immersed me in the film itself (which a former classmate would say is emotional manipulation, and he would be right). Imagine if you could control the future of the story via your interaction with the world itself - ala Sword Art Online or something of that variety? What could compete with such a full, complete, and whole world with true interactions with others who are engaged? Especially as graphical capabilities improve and sensory stimulation does too. We seem to be retreating into that liminal space of the internet more and more these days anyway.
I wonder about this brave new world we are moving into, and how it will affect everything from the way we engage with our community and democracy, and the kind of businesses we choose to support. Perhaps it is inevitable. I wonder what the consequences would be for the ease of manipulation by the ever shrinking monopolies controlling media (state and corporate) and the necessary physical engagement that humans need as social creatures. The only way any individual survives is through trade of services, skills, and goods with each other, and we evolved with that built in need.
I have faith this is something that will blow over, and people will continue to love theater, even despite the risks that infectious diseases have on gatherings of people. I have faith that the energetic sharing of a story in real time, and the emotional engagement of all members in one moment in time drawn live through a narrative that has pieces that remind one of one's own life will never disappear. And, I think that as artists it is a job to make pieces that are worth leaving the safety of a screen to engage with the humans one lives near.