Goodbye Theatre?

by Kitty Felde

I haven’t been inside a theatre for two years. And I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to return. Does this mean the death of live theatre? Does it mean the end of playwriting? At least for me.

It’s a question I’ve had to ask myself. Why spend my life writing something that no one will see?

Oh, sure. There are alternatives to a black box theatre experience. I myself have written a play that should be performed in a National Park. And I’ve written audio dramas for the Fina Mendoza Mysteries podcast series – plays that are performed inside your head. Others have created plays for Zoom and Instagram and YouTube.

Culture Clash turned its epic drama Chavez Ravine into a video project. Antaeus Theatre Company asked its playwrights to write audio plays about Los Angeles neighborhoods. They were turned into a podcast called The Zip Code Plays. Ellen Struve, a most creative playwright in Nebraska, wrote and produced what she calls Picture Window Puppet Theatre, a shadow play performed from her living room window for all of her Omaha neighbors.

The pandemic has indeed forced us to be creative. But it’s also challenged us to think about theatre itself. What’s the point? How important is it for us to gather together to share an experience? Is theatre just an elitist exercise?

I wanted to be an actor from my earliest days of watching television as a child. I spent most of high school backstage, either performing or running the sound board. I changed majors from Social Ecology to Theatre after one week of college, braving the censure of my mother who always wanted me to be a lawyer. (She surprised me by telling me to go for it!)

I spent my 20’s living on $40 a week plus board at a melodrama company near Pismo Beach, driving to commercial auditions where occasionally I’d get hired to extoll the virtues of peanut butter or play the rear end of a horse, performing plays and improv in tiny theatres where the performers usually outnumbered the patrons. I co-founded a theatre, Theatre of NOTE, where I served as Managing Director for more than half a decade. I rejoiced when I earned my Equity card and performed at South Coast Rep. I wrote dozens of plays, some published and performed around the world. One was even performed in the nude.

But that feels like another lifetime. I was another person.

A few years ago, Stanford political science professor Frank Fukuyama wrote that we had come to the end of history. Have we come to the end of theatre?

Of course, Fukuyama was wrong. A lot of history has happened since 1995. And since theatre has been around since human beings started telling stories around the fire, it’s unlikely the end of theatre.

But for me, for now, that shared experience of sitting together for an evening of theatre is over. And so is writing for that mythical place that filled so much of my life.

I’ll still write stories. Books and podcast dramas and who knows what next. But at least for now, and for the foreseeable future, my life in the theatre has come to an end.

Farewell, theatre.

1 thought on “Goodbye Theatre?

  1. Wow. This brought tears to my eyes. I wish there was something I could say: something meaningful or hopeful. But instead, I’ll just say thank you. Thank you for sharing, thank you for bringing so much to the table.

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