Monday, November 15, 2010

From the Audience

The entire time I was watching the video the two contrasting thoughts of "This is like reading the comments on the internet" and "And what exactly makes you better than the people who works their asses off on BN" crossed my mind alot.
--Dude Man
Fair point. In fact, I'm actually shocked that I didn't get this sooner. Now, it wasn't phrased as a question, more as an accusation, but I'm going to assume that this guy has the balls to ask me to my virtual face and just missed all of my contact information.

Short version? I worked for a few weeks shy of a decade in theatre. Not just any theatre; live theatre. I know, I know, live theatre, and television shows are very different, blah blah blah.

Shut up, because actually, they are very similar, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Long version: I mostly worked in technical, which means that I designed and built sets, I painted, I worked make-up and effects, I hung lights and did some basic sound engineering. It also means that I saw a lot of shows. I got to see what playing the same character night after night does to the performance, I saw what it does to the actors. I learned to differentiate between the acting and the directing and the producing. I know what jobs belong to which people.

I also did some acting (I'm not saying that I was ever good), so I know what it's like to form a character (knowledge bolstered by my years and years of playing D&D) I know how direction gets adapted by the actor, and I can totally sympathise with playing that same character night after night after night.

Also, I went to college for theatre. When I went to college. You know, before I moved half-way across the country and opened a gaming store. So I know things like color theory. I can date molding and wallpaper by the patterns. I can design and create costumes. I can light a set, I can run live-mics for a cast of forty by myself (but those were dark times). I can build a rig for pretty much anything. I'm aware of budget constraints, and what tends to get cut first. I know how to write a script, and I can identify script-writing techniques, as well as more general literary techniques like foreshadowing and symbolism (thanks primarily to the greatest English teacher evar: Mrs. K).

So, how are live theatre and television similar? Well, for a start theres the run. For a movie there's a set amount of material that needs to be acted, teched, and filmed, and that's it. For a television show, there's not only considerably more material, but everything about the show needs to be sustainable. It needs to be reused; everything from the characters to the sets to the lighting models to the rigs cannot be one-time-use, or even until-we-get-the-shot-use. In theatre, while the show stays the same, it does happen over, and over, and over. Some shows run longer than others, but I've worked everything from six-show community theatres to thirty-show tours, and the stress and the deadlines and the weariness from doing the same thing grates on a person. Similarly, there's the stress of doing the same thing.... but different. Adapting to different venues is a bitch and a half. In short, the amount of change that's expected and allowed is almost identical between live theatre and televison, and the same techniques for most everything to do with the production translate easily from one to another (the exception is acting. Watch the pilot for Babylon 5 and understand what I mean what I say, "You're used to a stage, get used to a soundstage for the love of all that's holy!").

My greatest strength has always been tech (which I'm simplistically defining here as "everything that's not the acting or actors"), and my reviews reflect that. I get sidetracked by things like lighting and sets because that's what I'm familiar with. That's what I'm most comfortable judging.

And that, kids, is what qualifies me to pick on television shows. Well, that and I really, really like them and would like to see them improve as an artistic and expressive medium.


  1. I'd actually like to thank you for assuming that guy asked you an intelligent question and answering so thoroughly. Figured some of the stuff had to be what it turned out to be, but was interested all the same. And your thoughts on the common ground between theater and TV shows are quite insightful. Still, keep in mind that criticism is a craft of its own, separate from practical knowledge.

  2. Criticism is very much a craft of its own, and I'm getting better at it the more I do it. However, the practical knowledge is necessary to avoid all of my criticism being "It sucks." Or, "It's awesome."

    I'd figured I'd get that question eventually anyway, so I may as well answer it.