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How to Watch a Play

By Don Yanik, Chair of the SPU Theatre Department, Professor of Theatre

SPU theatreFor their Winter 2011 production, the SPU Theatre Department staged the musical Godspell in an office setting.

A live theatre experience is much different from watching a movie. As an audience member, to one degree or another you become a part of the production. It's exciting.

There are several things you can do to enhance your theatre experience.

  1. Expect a play to relate in some way to real-life experiences. There will be familiar plots, characters, and situations – even if they're presented in ways that are unfamiliar to you. At SPU, we've produced the play Godspell three times, in three very different ways. The musical retelling of the gospel story was set during the countercultural “Hippie” movement, on gritty urban streets, and in an office building. But the story was universal, and the familiar is there if you look for it.
  2. Pay attention to the interdependent relationship that develops between the audience and the performers on stage. They work together to create that particular performance, a performance that will never happen again. You are part of the creative process.
  3. Become involved in the production. Try to block out annoyances such as fatigue or hard seats, and try not to let feelings about a particular performer, or the style of the set or costumes, distract you. Theatre artists work hard to integrate the production so that you can appreciate all of the elements as a whole.
  4. Enjoy theatre productions, but also learn to discriminate between good, mediocre, and bad theatre. Assessing the quality of the art involves subjective judgment to some degree, but there are also rules that apply to any art form. And those rules may be broken to add a new dimension. Maintaining a balance between pleasure and analytical judgment will help in your growing understanding and appreciation of theatre.
  5. To understand, you need to experience, and the more you experience, the more you will enjoy. Attend a variety of plays. Read published production reviews, read the play before attending it, read program notes, and observe lobby displays and photos of the production.

Watch a play – and discover a living, breathing art form!.