Going Live: After 1,000s of years, why do we still attend live events?

Yesterday’s Live 2.0 had a column about “The NFL’s small problem with attendance” (Why do Poeple Go to Live Events in the First Place?) and the mistakes that owners and stadiums are making in trying to draw audiences out of their living rooms and into the live arenas.  It is an interesting read for anyone producing anything in the live entertainment field, really.

But there is a passage in the middle that I think is particularly relevant to the value of the live experience and to theater producers.  Here, with acknowledgments to Jim McCarthy, I’ve taken that passage and adapted it for theater producers everywhere.

When it comes to making a great live experience, the thing to remember is that yes, there are ways in which different technological tools make the experience a bit more convenient at the edges. . .  But ultimately, you see something live because it’s more exciting than it is at home, and a big part of that feeling is that there are other people there. [emphasis mine]

Imagine that.

Theater takes good advantage of this.  In many places, it’s a [regular] meeting of a “tribe” of people. . . .  There’s [ritual and etiquette and established customs], and being part of it comes with your ticket.  .  . But why do all that inconvenient [traveling] and go to the actual [theater] when you can see what happens in the [story] on your wall-sized TV [through Netflix streaming or YouTube]? …

The mistake people make in this area is to think that people go to live events in order to find out what happens, to see the events of a [story].  Well, that’s true, but it misses the point.  If you want to simply become aware of the events of the [story], you can do that as well at home.  People go to the [theater] because they want to be a witness to it.  They want to be there when it happened.  They want to have an unmediated experience of something special (hopefully) and, 10 years of selling millions of tickets to millions of people has taught me, they want to witness the game (or show, or whatever) with other people.  They want to share that experience with other people and get the benefit of those other people making it special by being there.   They want to talk about it afterwards, possibly for the rest of their lives.

That doesn’t really happen very much when you watch on TV.  On TV, it’s just a show.  An exciting show, perhaps, but still just a show.  “60 Minutes is coming up immediately after football (except on the West Coast.)”

Watching [theater] and watching are two distinct ways of experiencing the product, both suited to different and valuable purposes, providing artists with two ways of reaching [audiences]…  They’re not the same, and they don’t really replace each other.

I don’t believe that one is better than the other.  Television viewing is inherently private- which gives it its own kind of power,  and theater is live and communal- but definitely not private- giving it a different kind of power.  Film, the poor dear, is somewhere in the middle isn’t it?  But people crave action, people desire to have things happen – in their lives, in their worlds – and people want to be a part of things happening.  At a live entertainment event, the audiences is always the all-important live, unedited witness.

Theater is “the place to see and contemplate” in the original Greek.  Live witnessing of human action is something we all want fulfilled. It helps remind us of how real we truly are.

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