Brave New Theater World

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Pamela Putch

My love for the theater began at a very early age, when I had the great good fortune of being born in a trunk at my father’s summer theater in Pennsylvania.  Growing up backstage and onstage in this magical world gave me a deep love for this art form.

Today, I make my living in television. At my first TCG national conference this past week in downtown Los Angeles,  I was curious to see how the theater world would look through my TV eyes.

At the TCG conference, I attended many diverse and interesting workshops and sessions.  I was thrilled to be in a room with Marsha Norman, who led a workshop entitled “Secrets of the Great Play”.  Who wouldn’t want to listen in on that!  I was inspired to hear Gordon Davidson’s lunchtime salon about the beginnings of his groundbreaking theater in Los Angeles.  However, the conversations specific to the internet seemed to stir the most discussion and challenge traditional thinking.  The future was the focus at this conference and the questions about the theaters’ evolution in this new virtual reality was prominent.

On the second day, I went to a fascinating lecture by futurist David Houle.  He explained how our culture is moving at a faster pace than ever imagined, and as new generations are born how they will live in a world of virtual communication that we cannot imagine today.  In my TV world, I attend promotional meetings regularly and have heard our CEOs and experts speak of the virtual world as something that must be embraced wholeheartedly in order to survive.  Houle addressed the theater makers directly with the ultimate question — how do you keep the theater thriving in this future environment?

Even though I understand the importance of this evolution, I have to admit that I was overwhelmed at times by the concepts he was putting forth. Does the future of the theater depend on inviting youth into the theaters by allowing texting during performances or by someday wearing goggles in theaters, which would give virtual information on the performance thereby making it an interactive experience?  I worried that this would change what I loved and cherished about the theater.

I thought about it more as it related to my very profit-based commercial advertising world.  Just as the world of radio morphed into television, television is even now transforming into a new world, an interactive web-based world.  One day the television experience may only be accessible via the internet.  Would the theater world be left behind if it didn’t embrace this virtual world?  Obviously, the theater already uses the internet to sell tickets, promote shows and keep audiences connected.  But in an age when people can remain in the comfort of their own homes to work, shop and view movies, how can the theater inspire patrons to get out of the house and attend live theatrical performances?

I attended other TCG sessions that further explored the nuts and bolts of making use of the virtual world.  On Saturday, two impressive performer/entrepreneurs hosted a conversation in which we discussed the benefits, challenges and realities of the live streaming broadcasts of performances.  The New York Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” and the U.K.’s “National Theatre Live” programs are broadcast in movie theaters around the world.  This made me wonder if one Saturday night in the future I would sit on my couch, push a button on my remote control and buy an 8 pm performance of the Broadway show that I didn’t have time to catch on my last New York trip.  Or perhaps I would choose to watch the world premiere of an up-and-coming playwright’s newest work from a well-known regional stage.   And to add to that scenario, would a younger member of my family be watching with me while they tweeted about the performance?  This future seems very possible to me.

But one astute participant in the session asked the obvious “elephant in the room” question — does theater then become TV?  I don’t have the answer, but I am not happy about it if it’s a possibility.

I left the conference with many questions.  However, I also left with a sense of comfort that all the talented and brilliant young people in attendance as speakers, participants and award recipients had the energy and passion to solve all of the challenges that lie ahead for theater.   The generation that includes the talented Daniel Beaty, Tanya Selvaratnam and Marcus Gardley, to name only a few, would keep the theater alive in ways I could never imagine.

Pamela Putch has had a diversified career in entertainment.  A graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University, she has appeared as an actress in more than 50 plays, directed shows in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles as well as produced a summer season at the Totem Pole Playhouse in Pennsylvania.  In the television arena, she has acted, produced and currently oversees production on the series 30 Rock, The Office and Parks & Recreation as a Sr. Vice President of Production at NBCUniversal Studios.  She looks forward to serving as a new board member of the L.A. Stage Alliance this coming year.

Pamela Putch

Pamela Putch