Let’s Put on a Show! (Business of Fun #19)
Before we had technology, we had theater.
And we still have theater. Dressing up in costumes and pretending to be other people seems to be programmed into human nature. I’ve already covered the fun we derive from television and film, but long before the screen, we gathered in front of (and on) the stage. It started in the 6th century B.C. Revelers used to dance themselves into a state of frenzy and eat raw animals, but then the entertainment became more refined with the emergence of Thespians. (Long before the Tony Awards, Thespis took the prize in the first competition for tragedy.)
We won’t take you through the entire history of theater (because you would walk out after the first couple of acts and never return to this blog), but here’s a really cool timeline that you can peruse at your leisure, if you’re so inclined. Here are some highlights and observations about the theater industry:
- We love comedy (and women with no clothes). Burlesque first appeared as a form of entertainment in 17th century Italian theater, poking fun at highbrow entertainment. Leave it to us Americans to take entertainment and make it even edgier and dirtier. Once burlesque came stateside, the costumes got skimpier (and ultimately disappeared). Then the morality police cracked down for a while. Burlesque has since made a comeback. Check out this list of burlesque and cabaret festivals throughout the world.
- We love to watch people bend their bodies into pretzels. Cirque Du Soleil began in the 1984 in Quebec with 20 street performers. Today, the company has nearly 4,000 employees and performances in more than 300 cities across six continents. Among these employees are 1,300 performing artists who are recruited from nearly 50 different countries. For more, visit this site or simply visit one of the seven shows currently playing in Las Vegas.
- We love the bright lights of Broadway (even when they’re not on Broadway). In the 1950s, Broadway musicals were a major part of American popular culture. Theaters sprouted up in Times Square area in the early 1900s. Off-Broadway doesn’t actually refer to geography. It has to do with the number of seats in the theater. (Broadway theaters have 500, off-Broadway have 100-499 and off-off-Broadway have fewer than 100). The most expensive theater production was Spiderman – Turn Off The Dark, which cost a whopping $79 million. The production was fraught with issues, but the web is still spinning — just in Las Vegas now. Of course, we can’t post about theater without quoting Shakespeare. “The play’s the thing.” Despite the surge in electronic entertainment options these days, we still gravitate to the thrill of the live performance. Broadway attendance hit an all-time high this year of 13 million attendees and grossed more than $1 billion. Hamilton is setting records, bringing in an estimated $100 million a year, and on track to generate $1 billion if it continues to run. Give my regards to Broadway!
- We love technology, in all things (but we hate waiting in line). Technology has had an impact on every aspect of the theater, from set design to music. Technology is being incorporated into productions too. For example, Pippin features a computer-generated avatar sword-fighting a live actor. Want to see a show tonight? No problem. Apps like TodayTix allow you to order up culture as easily as an Uber or a burger on Seamless.
- We don’t love all aspects of play-acting. Theater has made its way into the workplace. Role-playing is used in training, but it is often awkward. Dressing up as other people is fun. But being ourselves on stage is not. Perhaps that’s an area where we’re better off with virtual reality than theater of the absurd.
Exit stage right. Curtain down. Applause!