I’m not sure who coined the expression “boob tube” but its implication has always been clear to me: people who watch TV are boobs, simpletons, and lack common sense.
Even as a kid, I never really understood this characterization of TV viewers because it was with TV that I first learned to express my autonomy. If I didn’t like what I was watching, I could always turn the channel, turn off the TV, or leave. I wasn’t compelled by the conventions of TV to sit passively and absorb whatever was presented to me. Even as a kid, it seemed to me that only a boob would do something like that.
I thought of this one evening as I sat feeling trapped in a performance I was mostly enjoying. I felt trapped, despite my enjoyment, because the conventions of “fine art” live performance expect me to sit there in a passive boob-like state of awe. Even when I admire the work on stage, this experience can be frustrating. When I dislike the work onstage, the experience is a kind of torture.
I’m not sure when theatres became boob boxes but today far too many theatres are exactly that. Audiences are expected to check their autonomy at the door and accept whatever is presented to them in passive silence. I’ve even attended children’s theatre where some of the kids shushed into a dull silence some of the other kids who were audibly enjoying what they watched.
I suppose it could be argued that theatre, as an art form, requires a passive audience that is willing to sit silently for sixty minutes or more. If this is true, it also explains why this kind of theatre is struggling to find an audience. We live in an age — thankfully — when people are far less willing to play the part of the passive simpleton.
Personally, I’m not too interested in creating or consuming theatre for simpletons. I’m also pretty confident that many of you who follow #2AMt feel the same way. My question, then is this: what can be done to make the experience of theatre less passive for the audience?
I’m sure some of you are already experimenting along these lines. I would love to read about your successes, failures, and ideas for the future in the comments section below.