On a daily basis, there is more information available to us now than at anytime in recorded history.  The Internet is flooded with updates.  News cycles are in minutes, if not seconds, and our ever-increasing reliance on mobile devices that bring us news or something resembling news is spreading exponentially.  In the grand scheme, this is all for the good. After all, remember the adage “knowledge is power”? But what is the cost? And more to the point, what effect is all of this having on theatre.

As you read this, look around. How many people have their faces bathed in a glow from their mobile device? How many are either talking on their phone or seem to be texting or emailing? Aside from the fact that by being engaged with their personal technology they may not be reading this program, the far more insidious implication is that there is something more important going on than the play that is about to be seen. Granted, there may well be more important things, but let’s give pause and consider.

Back in the olden days people used to go to the theatre early. Aside from seeing others and being seen, there was time and energy invested in discussion. Often the conversation would be regarding the show that was about to be seen. Who was in the show? What was known about the story or the playwright?  Tidbits were discussed about the actors or director.  All in all, there was an effort to engage those whom we knew, or introductions were sought to those we would like to know.  Hence, society was served. The community was a little larger, and everyone took a moment to reflect upon something aside from themselves. After the show, conversation was again engaged and social bonding continued.

The problem with modern technology is not so much that it distracts us, but instead it enables us to be increasingly more isolated. The more we connect to the collective (via the Internet) the less likely we are to engage with those around us. So all those shining faces aren’t talking to their neighbor, nor are they meeting anyone new.

Theatre is a consciousness of the community. By and large theater reflects who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. Though entertainment is an essential part of the process, socialization is the long-term result. The moments that cause us to pause or to be amused leave us with consideration, and that results in change. How we share these moments and how these moments impact our daily lives is greatly dependant upon our ability to process the information.  The moments before and after a show are the times so aptly suitable for this processing.

Before the show, we can focus our attention, purge the days worries and anxieties leaving ourselves open to the stimulus which is about to flow. After the show we can dissect what we have just seen, and query those around us who have just taken the same journey.  What is their reaction?  How did a moment or message come through to them?  If we reflect upon issues only from our own perspective, we miss the chance to clarify and understand on a communal level.  Since we live in a very complex society, it’s imperative that we do examine our process from a community perspective.

Imagine how much more gratifying to speak to someone next to you as opposed to Twittering – “I’m seeing a show.”  Think what benefits you would derive from a discussion rather than “just saw Wicked, Awesome” and then waiting, “I saw it too!” — empty screen.

Technology is not our enemy – it is our tool. However, if we allow it to intrude or interfere in relationships, or to use it to replace people, then we diminish ourselves. Take advantage of opportunity, talk to the person next to you.  If you’re shy, invite someone you know to come with you to the theatre.  If you’re not shy invite someone you don’t know to come to the theatre. Grow a little, and expand your horizons.

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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