Red Shoes: something to talk about

Kneehigh's challenge

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It’s been said that film is a director’s medium, and theater is the actor’s medium. What’s not said as often, but should be, is that theater is also an audience’s medium. When you sit in front of a screen, big or small, you get exactly what the director has decided you will get, and the sensory experience (if not its interpretation) is precisely the same for every viewer. You are a vessel into which the director’s vision is poured; the only part you play is the initial decision to watch or not to watch. Theater, on the other hand, requires your active participation. There are no close-ups in a live production, no camera angles framing the action, no cutaways, wipes, or dissolves. There is only the action happening onstage, often all over the stage, and it is up to you, the audience member, to decide what exactly to focus your attention upon, because it’s quite literally impossible to watch everything and every actor at every moment.

It’s also understood that film is the medium of reality. Reality, after all, is what we’ve been conditioned to expect from recorded media; even though the “reality” we’re getting may a dream or a space battle or a school for magic or spoiled Nordic gods or an alien planet full of giant blue cat people, we damned well expect it all to look as real possible, and in 3D if we’re lucky.

Again, this is where theater shines. For it is a medium that cares nothing for slavish depictions of reality. Theater’s strength, its timeless triumph, is that it is a medium of not only the audience but of the imagination. The very best works of theater make brilliant use of both these characteristics — indeed, this is the very essence of theatricality. Not “drama,” not story, not snappy dialogue, not lavish costumes or period sets and certainly not special effects, but making the people watching the play an integral part of bringing it to life. Ask them to imagine your story into being, to participate in its creation from moment to moment, and they will love you for it a thousand times a thousand Avatars.

This is precisely what Kneehigh Theatre has done with Red Shoes. Discuss.

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