“There are no shared memories anymore” is the line in Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike that has stuck with me for this whole weekend. On Friday, I drove back to my school’s campus to see the summer show and while I was intrigued by the acting, the direction, and the themes of the play, I was more intrigued by the director’s short message in the playbill. The director, who has been one of my theater professors during the school year, explained how the line stated above made her realize why theatre is such a unique art form.
The context of the line being: the character Vanya is ranting about how the younger generation doesn’t know how to sit still. They just keep moving and consuming with all their content, tweets, texts, emails, and hundreds of TV channels. Unlike when he was growing up, the younger generation doesn’t share anything with each other anymore because everyone is doing a billion different things at once. In the playbill, the director reflects and says that we love theatre so much because it is shared unlike any other thing now. It is impossible to recreate the same performance whether it be rehearsal or the real one. In live theatre, every run is different and a “unique shared memory for the cast, crew, and audience”.
And this is true. I have been doing theatre for 6 years and by the end of the run of a show, you know pretty much every line in the play. You share that knowledge with your cast and it is something only you guys can quote/reference. You have been through it so many times it just sinks into your memory and that leads to moments where you’re backstage with a cast mate either waiting for the funniest line so you can laugh together, reciting the monologue word for word as its played on stage, or just watching a certain scene together to see if it improved from last night.
Just like hanging out or doing something with people who you are close to, rehearsal acts as a place where you have fun and unique experiences specific to just the production. When I was in God by Woody Allen we had a rehearsal where my character was crawling around on the ground ranting and then all of a sudden my pants rip in the middle of a line. I have memories from Grease where me and the rest of guys would have to struggle rolling out a fake car through a very narrow entrance. Every performance or rehearsal run we did something different and every time it was really fun to see how we’d figure it out. One time in On the Razzle someone missed their entrance by 10 minutes causing my friend to improv on stage waiting for them to show up. There is even an example in the original play mentioned. On Friday’s performance of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike the power went out in the middle of act 1.
Theatre is art that changes. It is impossible to do the exact same thing twice. So the audience every night will have a unique experience that they share together. Of course it can be argued that audiences of TV shows or movies share an experience as it is the same for everyone all the time. That is an argument I’ll accept, however, in terms of creating theatre/being a part of the cast or crew, there are different unique experiences every time you run the show whether it be a rehearsal or not. In fact, most of these memories I shared did happen in a rehearsal. Creating theatre isn’t just a job, its experiencing different things every time the lights come up.