Saturday, June 14, 2008

Are Digital Orchestras a Sign of the Times?

Found a fantastic discussion about the possible effects of using digital orchestras in theatre productions. Check it out at the link above.

Here was my comment:

Great discussion! I am a community theatre director/performer here in the Cleveland area and musicals are my focus so this really hits home - especially as an upcoming directing project looms on the horizon the score of which will require a lot in terms of the orchestra. And as is common in community theatre, the physical space is limited to say the least.

At the community theatre level, I think we're talking about two different things: teaching young musicians while encouraging performance opportunities for them to learn versus creating the greatest possible theatre experience for ticket-buying audiences.

I agree that we should always encourage learning experiences for young musicians - kids need these experiences. No one would argue that these performance experiences are essential to their development even though they may not have advanced skills right now. But most of the pits in the community theatre shows I have directed, been in or even just seen are not made up of middle or high schoolers. A few are, but not many. So I can't say we would be taking away kids performing opportunities with digital augmentation.

On the other hand, many of the performers actually on stage are high schoolers - many of which are still only developing their skills as well. I wonder if, when we develop technology (and you know we will) that can replace live actors with 3D hologram performers that can sing and dance flawlessly, we will replace the high schoolers who fill so many of our community theatre roles, but who may still be squeaking through a Sondheim score while their voices are still changing?

But while part of any community theatre's mission is to improve the community through the arts - which means fostering and educating young talent - a larger part of that mission is the obligation to their ticket buying subscribers and audiences in general. A main stage theatre production is not intended to be a "class". While there are plenty of supportive parents and grandparents in any given community theatre audience who will forgive squeaky notes or awkward dance steps, the walk-up patron expecting to see a decent production doesn't want to pay for a music class recital. There are other venues for those learning performance opportunities. Indeed, if we are lucky enough to get someone to walk-up and buy a ticket who maybe hasn'tbeen there before, we need to out our absolute best foot forward and impress them so that they come back again and bring friends! We only get one chance to make that impression and we cannot afford to reinforce the negative stereotypes that community theatre means sub-par theatre.

Could this technology also help improve the perfomances on stage? A singer or dancer likes the confidence of knowing the pitch and tempo or accompaniment will be consistent and sound great.

As a singer myself, I am also a member of a musical community outside of the theatre as a part of a working special event band. While event coordinators certzinly have the option to hire digital DJ's, many live bands are still very busy. Most of the musicians I know in this world won't even work in the theatre because they won't work for the money most community theatres can afford. So I don't think at this level digital augmentation in community theatres would be taking away most money making opportunities for working musicians.

I'm still hesitant about taking the leap completely, but I come from the "if you can't beat'em, join 'em" school of is here, it's coming and we need to learn about it and embrace some of it. Anything we can do to improve the theatre going experience should be talked about and I appreciate this forum.

No comments: