‘Tearing the Curtain’ between Reality and Theatre

One of the reasons people enjoy attending plays is to ‘get lost’ in a story. At times it is enjoyable to sit down for a few hours, take a break from one’s life and witness a story told by fictional people on a stage. Although it is enjoyable to be told a story through the action of theatre and not have to think but only to react and feel, it is far more memorable and thought provoking when one attends a production that makes the audience think critically about what is happening on stage in front of them. A production intentionally making the audience think about what they are seeing and hearing on stage can result in thoughtful contemplation for audience members but also confusion and frustration for some. German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht understood the importance of challenging an audience to think critically about the message that a production brings to its audience, through means of alienation. “The idea behind “alienation” [is] to remove or “alienate” the audience from the traditional conventions of theatre by appealing to their intellects rather than their emotions” (Hischak 122). The Electric Company’s production of Tear the Curtain! uses this technique to make the audience aware of their role as viewers. This awareness is gained by the deliberate use of lighting, the screen as a tool for the stage, and by breaking the forth wall.

     Tear the Curtain!’s deliberate use of lighting to communicate certain concepts makes the audience aware of the fact that they are watching a production, by bringing technical aspects of theatre which are normally unnoticeable to the forefront of the audience’s attention. There are certain moments in Tear the Curtain! that the lighting draws attention to itself to communicate something. For example, when the character Alex first meets Stanley Lee, he is trying to remember where he recognises him from and as soon as he remembers, a bright light shines noticeably on Alex. The light is intentionally showing Alex’s memory coming back to him. This visual representation shown with lighting brings the technical aspects of theatre to the attention of the audience, thus reminding the audience that they are in a theatre watching a production, rather than forgetting about their own self-awareness as a viewer of a staged fictional event.

     Tear the Curtain!’s use of the screen to show part of the production in the media of film makes the audience aware of the production as an entity that is not only separate from the reality of everyday life, but creates a hybrid performance that enhances the experience of viewing. The screen is an effective tool used in Tear the Curtain! as it enables the production to expand their setting by displacing time and space. The film portion of the production is obviously filmed beforehand, but the presence of the film works seamlessly with the live acting done on the stage; when the characters exit the stage through a door in the set, they appear on screen inside of the room that the audience is not able to see. The clear disconnect from stage to screen indeed works seamlessly, although at the same time it reinforces the audience perception that they are watching a production.

      Tear the Curtain! making use of the technique of breaking the forth wall is an effective strategy for  making the audience aware that they are watching a theatrical production and occupying the same space as the fictional story being told on the stage. As Alex is addressing the audience at the cinema theatre during his speech, and his monologue reaches a point of a sort of ‘crescendo’, the lights come on in the audience, and he addresses the audience directly. At this point in the production, the fictional audience of the cinema theatre in the mid-twentieth century becomes the current audience in 2012, watching a production of Tear the Curtain!. This moment especially makes the audience self aware because now the actor (not the character) is speaking to them. As the importance of the use of light was mentioned previously, the act of lighting the audience emphasizes this moment, as it is rare in a production to have the audience lit, and it is usually an indication that the production is over.

      Tear the Curtain!’s main plotline examining the differences between film and theatre whilst using film and theatre to explore this concept draws the audience’s attention to the capabilities and disadvantages of both theatre and film. In the process of examining these art forms, the production forces the audience to think about not only the differences between the two mediums but how a production can make an audience’s self awareness evident.   

Works Cited

Tear the Curtain!. Dir. Kim Collier & Jonathon Young. The Electric Company, 2012. Production.

Hischak, Thomas S. Theatre As Human Action. Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006. Print.

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