The theater is an ancient art form. Some of the earliest known plays were performed outdoors in amphitheaters by actors in giant masks thousands of years ago in ancient Greece, without the benefit of microphones or prerecorded music.
Needless to say, the theater has changed a lot during the intervening centuries, and while it may seem to some like a quaint or outdated form of expression, innovative technicians are constantly finding ways to bring the theater into the 21st century by incorporating new technologies.
1. Multimedia and Video
While live performances by human beings will always be central to the theatrical experience, visionary directors are incorporating prerecorded video into performances to evoke a sense of magical realism and help the audience suspend disbelief in ways that wouldn’t be possible using only traditional stagecraft. For example, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the character of Ariel is a magical sprite. During a recent production, a system of sensors and projections allowed the character to appear on screens placed strategically throughout the theater, creating the sense of an otherworldly presence.
2. Social Media
The theater is and always has been about connecting with a live audience, which can only happen by first catching people’s attention and enticing them to come to the theater. Theater companies are leveraging the power of social media to disseminate advertisements and promote plays by sharing favorable NYC play reviews. The actors, as well, are building relationships with audiences through online platforms to a degree that was impossible as recently as 15 years ago.
Since much of the meaning of a theatrical performance is conveyed through dialogue or lyrics, it is imperative that the audience be able to hear and understand what is spoken or sung. Microphones and sound rigging have become smaller and less obtrusive, and sound effects are available digitally rather than recorded in the field.
While some may wish for the theater to remain frozen in amber forever, it is and always has been a reflection of society and culture. Adoption of new technology is essential to perform that function adequately.