Arts once removed

January 8, 2009
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The British TV channel Sky Arts will be broadcasting English National Opera's production of "La Boheme." Nothing new there.

The twist is that it will, simultaniously, broadcast a live, behind-the-scenes, view. See story here.

If both were offered here, I'd guess that the backstage view would attract a larger audience. At least, that's the one I'd be most likely to watch.

I'm not proud about this, but in books and on TV, I'm increasingly drawn to the story-about rather than the story itself. I read more books about theater than I read plays themselves. I don't read many magazines, but I just finished a book about the history of the groundbreaking publication "Spy." I haven't seen a Red Skelton film in a long time, but I just read Wes D. Gehring's "Red Skelton: The Mask Behind the Mask."

I can't help but wonder if my experience is typical of others. With more "reality" programming on TV and more pull-back-the-curtain offerings from arts organizations, are we becoming a once-removed culture? Or does this obsession with process increase our appreciation of the art itself?

Your thoughts?
  • Art is already once-removed. A book or play or movie lets me experience something vicariously. Art about art is therefore twice-removed.

    But I'm okay with that. I think an obsession with process does, sometimes, increase our appreciation of the art itself.

    However, I don't think that a peek behind the scenes as a performance is going on would be all that illuminating. Fun, probably, but it wouldn't even begin to answer my questions about the mystery of it all.

    One of the things that make art good is the years of experience and training that the artists bring with them to the process, which in itself takes much more time than the sharing of the two-hour concert or opera or whatever.

    Hope Baugh
  • I share your fascination with behind-the-scenes stories. I grew up in and near the theater, with a dad who directed and acted in community productions. Later, producing videos and doing a bit of radio got me hooked. While I love a compelling story, how the story is told is equally interesting to me (but in a different way.)

    Many of those who go into broadcasting with aspirations of working as news anchors soon realize either that they have dim prospects in that role, or that it's much more creative very rewarding to be a producer or director.

    I haven't worked in film, but surely the same phenomenon occurs there. Witness the veteran actors who become directors.

    Then there's the tip-of-the-iceberg effect, which reveals that there's so much more to any production (any endeavor?) than is first apparent.

    Here's to celebrating the many ways we create!
  • Can you give a mini-review of the Red Skelton book?
  • I might enjoy a shortened behind-the-scenes look at a play in progress, but only after I'd seen the actual play. I like to get caught up in the story, so being forced to realize that it's all make-believe in such an in-your-face way would be painful for me.

    You get to see many, many more plays and performances than I do, Lou, so maybe that, coupled with your journalistic background, is why you've become more drawn to the story-about-the-story.

    P.S. I'm still cringing that reality TV even got a mention in a story about art.
  • Cindy,
    I don't think my being drawn to the backstory is a good thing. I think I should watch--and probably would get more from--the La Boheme broadcast, for instance. I just know that I'd be tempted over to the other channel.
    Historically, I've tried to avoid such things when I haven't yet seen the work. For instance, I never read a Shakespeare play before I see it on stage. I want my first experience to be that fresh (which is why I still have no idea what happens at the end of A Winter's Tale or a half dozen other Shakespeare plays).
    But the behind-the-scenes stuff is getting more tempting, particularly with books. Reading a classic takes a lot more effort and time than reading a book about books. (Why, I ask myself, have I been skimming through Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara?: The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World's Best-Loved Books when I could be reading one of the world's best-loved books?
    Side note: I don't care for bonus materials on DVDs. Great that they are there, but never find myself watching them.
  • An immediate thought that came to mind was the old Wide World of Sports that may have started the behind the scenes drama that to evolved to the complex stories of athletes performing at the Olympics. Producers quickly realized the pull and value about letting the viewer becoming more emotionally involved in the events.

    As a high school thespian, my fondest memories about plays tend to be about the preparations, the bloopers, and the hushed excitement backstage during a performance.

    The idea of being able to watch what is going on during a major theatrical production is intriguing and would probably be more engaging for me to watch than an opera I've sen before.

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