Several of us from the office went to see Memphis the Musical last night. Only it wasn’t the stage show, exactly. It was a big screen version of the live Broadway production, complete with surround sound applause and a 15 minute intermission.
Personally, I had mixed feelings about the idea. I don’t know much about Broadway or anything, but I do know that experiencing a live performance is very different from watching a movie. And I think that perhaps a lot of people don’t go see live performances because they have the easier, cheaper option of seeing movies.
That said, I think the main issue for me was that the show wasn’t quite a movie or a live performance. And it left me wanting.
Like a movie, many different cameras were used to record the production, and then the different angles were patched together. This is standard practice; watch any television program and you can note that the angle or view of a scene changes at least every four seconds.
The positive aspect of this filming practice is the close ups of characters in particularly emotional moments. Headshots of a kiss or a stroked cheek… at a stage production, your vision is directed to these events by changes in lighting and stillness elsewhere on the stage. But still, you must pay attention. In a movie, two big faces fill the whole screen… It’s really hard to miss.
While I enjoy watching a nice kiss, I think the downside of the different camera angles and views outweigh that benefit. The movie told me where I had to look, and gave me no option to take in the whole stage.
But the whole stage is what makes a live performance so grand! The subtle background movements, the magnitude of an entire chorus line singing and dancing… this is where a palpable energy comes from! This is the very thing that makes watching a live performance an interactive experience. It’s the thing that makes no two performances—even of the same show—exactly alike.
Seeing Memphis the Musical was a good experience; one that reinforced beliefs that I have acquired since I began seeing live performances just a few short years ago. There is an excitement—an energy— generated at live productions. At some shows, it’s disappointingly small. At others, it almost blows you out of your seat. And it is that blast of power, rushing off of the stage, slamming into the audience, and careening right back into the actors, that keeps me going to the theatre. In spite of the expertise of the camera crew and the wonders of surround sound, that’s something a camera just can’t capture.