If I were to ask you what is the most popular form of live theatre in the world today, what would you say? Would you say that musicals, grand theatre, and the traditional fare of Broadway in New York? Maybe you would be old-fashioned and say it’s the excellent Shakespeare shows of London, steeped in history and tradition. Or would you say it’s the traveling, off-Broadway shows that go from town to town showcasing the latest and greatest in staged art?
To the first point, I would reply that it is extremely hard to be a relevant art form if your maximum reach is one block of one city. How does Broadway reach those who can’t see it live in New York? Isn’t that like designing a car that only works in the city. Sure, it might be a great car, but it’s not going to help people on farms.
To the second point—Hamlet, Schmamlet. There are few things less relevant than a bunch of plays some dude wrote for a culture that still believed in the four disease-causing humors.
How is one really supposed to get proper characterization out of someone that believed that there was a natural and divine order of things and people. That might fly for the British, being a people used to total submission to their overlords, but it doesn’t work here.
We fought a war (and won) to escape that, so we could be lorded over by those with the financial and political capital to keep power for extremely long periods of time so that they could mimic a monarchy or dictatorship.
That’s a big difference. At least in theory we have the ability to change things.
And as for the third point—there are tons of travelling shows that bring theatre to the masses, but they really only bring theatre to the masses of wealthier and more educated people in every city. The same type of people that go to see “Death of a Salesman” in Knoxville are the same as who are going to go see it in Seattle, with few exceptions. Theatre for the masses is pretty dead, because theatre simply isn’t part of mainstream American culture, except for the film industry, which is a completely different (and way more American) thing.
No, the most popular form of live staged entertainment in this country is professional wrestling, and it’s worrisome that we don’t really pay attention to it. The New York Times does not send a reviewer to Wrestlemania or Summerslam or the Royal Rumble, despite John Cena and The Rock being more recognizable nomenclatures than Mark Rylance and James Corden, the two most recent winners of the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor.
It boggles the mind. Here you have a medium of artistic expression that manages to draw millions of live viewers a year in the United States, Mexico, Japan and other countries, yet it’s treated as trash viewership and entertainment for simpletons.
It’s cultural bigotry, plain and simple.
It’s not like the performers are any less talented. Not only do they have to be convincing, charismatic and able to sell a television show, they also have to be expressive, committed and fearless once the bell rings.
There is very little said throughout a wrestling match, yet experienced watchers will tell you that they are able to tell which performers put on a better show. This is silent acting, and it’s on the level of Buster Keaton (who got his start as part of a traveling Vaudevillian act, just for your information) and Charlie Chaplin, only it’s live and repeated hundreds of days a year.
And even if you are one of the people that say that wrestling is stupid and the story is dumb and the medium is hopeless, then change it! If you’re a theatre practitioner in America in the 21st century, you owe it to yourself, your craft, and the public to be doing relevant work.
Right now, the opportunity is there in professional wrestling, just waiting to be grabbed.