Playwright and weblogger George Hunka of Superfluities responds to my answer to his initial response to my question (stated in terms of the artwork itself): Why should live theater survive as an art form today when film seems better able to do a play justice? In George's response, he quotes and links several other webloggers who've joined the conversation: professional musician Helen Radice of Twang Twang Twang, songwriter John Shaw of Utopian Turtletop, and theater director Isaac Butler of Parabasis.
The interesting thing about these respondent posts is that with the exception of John Shaw's post which has problems of its own, my answer to which is contained in the comments section of that post they all focus on the same aspects of live theater: the performers' effect on the audience, the audience's effect on the performers, and the effect of both on the performance.
What's wrong with this picture?
In short: everything meaningful. Conspicuous by its total absence in these posts is any mention of the one thing of central importance: the created artwork; the play itself. Instead we have such as this from Isaac Butler:
[T]here is something about theater's liveness that makes it unique. [...] [B]eing in the same room as the performers forces a new kind of human reckoning, a commonality .... Truly great theater reaches out from beyond the stage and into your soul, and its completeness and its liveness can, at their best, engage you emotionally, physically, psychologically, intellectually, sensually and spiritually at the same time and, by doing this, make you for a brief moment a little more human, a little more alive, a little less alienated.
And this from Helen Radice:
Live performance is absolutely crucial because it's an otherwise unattainable artistic dimension, vital player in what all art is for: broader perspectives, extended empathy, improved self-knowledge and a greater heart.
And this from George himself:
The variable left out of ACD's equation [in my previous post, above linked] is the means by which audience presence affects interpretation: not only the audience's response to the play but the performer's response to the audience.
Because different audiences and different performers will [for example] approach [Waiting for] Godot differently, the "message" of the play, such as it is, will have varying tonalities. This is true, also, in terms of successive performances of a single production, which is rather more to the point of ACD's discussion. Any performing artist will tell you that any given live performance has different aesthetic and interpretive potentials from any other. Before an apathetic or hostile audience, a performance of Endgame, Hedda Gabler or The Odd Couple will indeed be soulless, bumpy and uncomfortable. But an enthusiastic audience's reaction will suggest interpretations within the ongoing performance itself that render the performance capable of that aesthetic transcendence that we seem to agree is the apogee of all art.
Let me make myself clear about this, if I haven't up to this point (and I think I have), by stating the matter in the bluntest of terms. The above quoted declarations of humanist faith notwithstanding, the audience doesn't count. The actors don't count. The director doesn't count. Even the playwright himself doesn't count. Nothing counts but the created artwork: the play itself and its realization; a realization determined determined exclusively by the requirements and dictates of the play's text alone in which is contained what's necessary for the achieving of the "aesthetic transcendence" George above speaks of if the play is worth the paper it's printed on.
Period. Full stop.
That realization ought never to be determined by or depend upon either the mood of the actors, the whims of the director, the response or non-response of the audience, or even the extra-textual thoughts of the playwright himself unless that playwright still be alive, and those extra-textual thoughts result in an after-the-fact alteration of the play's text; generally not a good or prudent thing to do once the play's been field-tested and sent finally into the world by the playwright as a finished work. Playwrights, like all other human creators, are subject to a universal, inexorable, and ineluctable law of Nature (or so it seems in operation) that decrees that once an artwork finally leaves its creator's hands it assumes a life of its own; one which may be very different from what its creator imagined it to be at work's creation. The wise creator will accept and submit to the dictates of that law, and not attempt to either evade, avoid, or thwart it, for to do so is to inevitably court diminishment of, or in extreme cases even disaster for, the artwork as many a reckless or unwary creator has learned to his chagrin; even so infallible a creator as the great Mozart himself.
In my previous post (linked above) I made it clear that my initial question Why should live theater survive as an art form today when film seems better able to do a play justice? was framed strictly in terms of the aesthetic realization of the only thing of importance: the play itself. That question has yet to be answered, or even addressed, by any of the above respondents (again, with the exception of John Shaw whose response, as I've already noted, has problems of its own which have been addressed by me elsewhere). Instead, there's been nothing but a seemingly determined evasion of the question by a relentless shifting of focus to humanist matters in live theater altogether subsidiary: the response of audiences and actors in a live performance, and the two-way effects of that response on the live performance.
That evasion seems to me a most curious sort of non-response response to the question posed. But, then, perhaps the very non-responsiveness of the response has provided me the answer to the question after all.