By Sue Murphy
This was a good summer for movies. With “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” coming out back-to-back, it was like a Disney-palooza. While the thermometer hovered at 95 degrees, I spent many happy hours sitting in the dark with my Junior Mints.
I also went to see Red Mountain Theatre’s production of “Matilda,” which was great fun. No Junior Mints there, but I really didn’t need them, and that’s saying something.
I love live theater. The first production I ever saw was “Camelot.” I was probably 10 years old, and when the big velvet curtains parted and the first strains of music rose from the orchestra pit, I was hooked.
Movies and live theater are very different creatures. Movie directors have acres and acres of screen to fill. The actors may be front and center, but they’re surrounded by buildings and street signs and specific dish towels slung over someone’s shoulder, and every item needs to be true to the story. Because the audience gets such a super-zoom view every single minute, every soup can label, every song on the car radio, every subtle facial expression has to be authentic. If the story includes snowfall, it can’t be filmed in the Sahara. If a scene takes place in a dust storm, the director must pack up the cast and crew and carry them to a place where a lot of dust can be stirred up on cue. There’s a small town in Illinois close to where my sister lives that a production company sank thousands of dollars into just so they could film a scene where they blew up a gas station in a Superman movie. No wonder movie tickets are so expensive.
In a live theater, the same effect would be accomplished with an offstage blast and a flash of light. The stage director is working with considerably less space and a considerably smaller budget, so the images the audience sees must be condensed. In the recent film version of “The Lion King,” great care was taken to make the animals appear real (other than the fact that they could talk, of course). The animals in the stage production of “The Lion King” were people in bright, artistic costumes. The background animals were giant puppets on wheels.
The remarkable thing is that both versions of the story worked beautifully.
Movies are like big sprawling novels. They use the tools at their disposal to make the audience’s experience bigger and louder to command their full attention. Live theater is more like poetry. The director cuts to the essence of the story by distilling it down to its most vital parts.
If you miss the big screen showing of a movie, you needn’t worry. Within the year, it will be available on video, and eventually it will make it to Amazon or Netflix or even a regular non-paying channel. If you miss a live theater production … well, I’m sorry. Yes, the play may be put on somewhere else, but that particular production, with that cast and that set and that magical mix of audience members, is gone for good. It was a moment in time, and time moves on.
From the previews, this fall will be another banner season at the movies, and I am squirreling away my Junior Mint money in preparation. I’ve also bought season tickets to the theater. I’m going big, I’m going small. I’m going all out.
So, buy a ticket this season. Buy two. Have popcorn instead of Junior Mints. There are no real rules —except to silence your cell phone.