Monday, November 7, 2011
The other week, I got to see Radiohead play NYC’s Roseland Ballroom. It was my third time seeing the band with Rebecca Benhayon (who was on Radiohead concert no. 6) and, regardless of your feelings on how this band may or may not suck relative to how much some other musical jewel in your eye “rules,” I think it’s fair to say that it’s always a cool thing to see one of the bigger rock bands of the last decade-plus play a comparatively small venue.
So, standing room it was and I was shoulder to shoulder with the throng about 40 feet back from the stage and, generally, the 5 inches I have on Rebecca make for a pretty clear view of the stage. Until, that is, the band actually goes on. Then, my view – and I have to assume most everyone else’s – gets blocked as people find every available free space to hold up their phones to take pictures and videos of the show.
I get it, okay? It’s important to note that I get it. This was a hot ticket, a much anticipated show. People wanted to document and maybe get a personal bootleg video of a song … or seven. Hell, I would have even probably tried to snap a shot if I wasn’t busy already working myself up about everyone’s screen blocking my view (and enjoying the show … also important to note … still enjoyed the show mucho). But, the crowd was arguably more subdued (or maybe just more subdued than I would have liked … let’s keep in mind, this is a guy who’s been in a Pantera pit or two in his day) because … well … they had to hold still to get a good video.
While I don’t want to sound too much like a crag and talk about the destruction of the live moment, I would say that the whole “digital documenting and sharing” compulsion bummed me out a little bit. It bummed me out because, I suspect, our culture is moving further away from valuing what cannot be captured. Why else watch Radiohead perform their set through the crappy screen on your phone rather than the much higher res (depending on your eyeglass prescription, I suppose) version in front of you? Is it better to be able to watch them play the version of “Karma Police” from the show you saw over and over again – or to pay attention to the experience as it’s happening? If an experience can’t be captured, it reasons, it cannot be shared. If it cannot be shared, it is of limited social use.
This is particularly troubling when thinking about theater, of course, because the main thing that was always said about live theater is that it offers an experience that can only be viewed once. But what if that argument is holding less and less water – or that the water is less and less a thirst quencher? All this while theater makers (myself included) are trying to find the way(s) that our now-everyday technology and networking can work to increase awareness and excitement about all the amazing stuff we do. The Radiohead show reminded me of when Neil LaBute’s “reasons to be pretty” was on Broadway recently and encouraged people to text during the show. Totally see what would make them want to try that out. Totally see how terrible it would be to be in a Broadway show (or, for that matter, a Broadway audience) where people are being encouraged to not completely engage with the show. But “reasons” will not be the last show to think this is a good idea.
I’ve never been particularly interested in “Is Theater Dead?” conversations – and I’m not bringing this up with the intention of having one now. I don’t think, however, that it’s an incredible stretch to say that people’s relationship with the live moment is an ever-evolving thing in our culture and that, as peddlers of live moments, it’s something to be aware of.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some YouTube bootlegs of Radiohead’s Roseland show to watch…
- Robert Attenweiler