Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This short interview from 2012 was the result of a question from Eric Prince of Colorado State University.

Why Does Theatre Matter?

Why does theatre matter? What makes it worth it all?
Alan Ayckbourn:
Theatre was my first choice. In fact at the start it was the only choice open to me! Offers from film and TV just weren’t exactly flooding in initially and, by the time they were, I felt it was far too late to start on a new career.

I have always concentrated throughout my life on what I term Basic Theatre. Defined by Stephen Joseph as, at heart, being a live meeting between two groups of people - the actors and audience; the one there to tell a story, the other to listen and re-act to it. The other trimmings, design, direction, lighting, sound, costume and props are options available to support, enhance and enrich this story-telling ritual, but never, never should they attempt to overshadow or obscure it.

What’s left (and there’s a lot left) is making the decision as to what to tell and how best to tell it. The actors (hereinafter referred to as The Company) may first decide to prepare their story. They might in some instances elect one of their number (hereinafter referred to as The Playwright) to devise a narrative and, if convenient, to write it down. They may go further and decide that to avoid disputes and resolve differences between them they also choose another to arbitrate (hereinafter referred to as The Director) to do this. This duty might, if felt appropriate, also be assigned to The Playwright. In certain cases, groups with strong identities may choose to dispense with these two previous appointments and go it alone and unprepared though I wouldn’t advise it.

Whichever path they choose, it is important that although The Company are prepared for their meeting with their audience, they are never so rigidly rehearsed or inflexible as to give their audience an impression that they have no influence or impact on what they’re watching or, worse still, that they mistake what they are witnessing to be a pre-recorded film or TV programme (hereinafter known as The Inflexible Mechanical Media).
If The Company abide by these simple principles, then they are practising Basic Theatre. Bravo!

This might be diluted (or polluted) occasionally by adding further elements such as for instance back-projection, slides or holographic images. But caution must be taken on two counts with this.

1) The danger these might muddy or interrupt the bond between actor and audience.

2) Be aware that no theatrical technical effect, however impressive or costly, can ever compete with an effect achieved by The Inflexible Mechanical Media. Often the same effect can be achieved by something as simple and satisfying as a piece of string.

Less is more; little is beautiful. Whether it be a single word, a line, a speech, a scene, or an act; whether a gesture, an inflexion, a shout or a facial expression. Always choose the minimum required to tell the story. Economy is more than finance.

That’s what I love about Theatre.

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