Ah, the opening Chorus of Henry V… let’s let Derek Jacobi remind us, shall we?
Just before my first classes this week, I had an idea: I’d already decided to get the students to move their desks (usually in traditional rows) into a circular formation so they could see one another– the idea was to declare the space thereby created as available to everyone, not just me. So if someone wants or needs to move to make a point, ask a question, or simply stretch after sitting still for a while, they are allowed, nay encouraged, to do so.
Several points here: first of all, it draws their attention to the importance of space itself in theatre– it profoundly shapes the action onstage.
More importantly, though, it makes them aware of the key fact of presence: being in a shared space, breathing the same air, seeing and hearing one another and thereby creating the event in the moment, here and now.
This is an essential part of live theatre, obviously– but it strikes me as even more important right now. At one of our pre-term meetings, we were told that the administration is a leaning heavily towards online courses as a way to appeal to more students. And I’m all in favour of working with technology to develop ways that teachers and students can interact in diverse ways.
But there are some things that simple cannot be done online, methinks. I, at least, cannot teach, show, or demonstrate the essential importance of presence online, making it fully real.
Theatre fascinates in part because it explores what it means to be human. And yes, online connections are a part of that reality now– and a potentially excellent part at that. To make the crucial elements of this genre clear, however, involves interaction, presence. Reality rather than virtuality.