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Theatre Killed The Video Star

February 17, 2009

Every now and again someone in the media writes an article about how advances in digital technologies like motion capture will make real, live actors a thing of the past on screen.

This morning, as I read the latest of these, an NPR piece about the latest Brad Pitt vehicle, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, I started to wonder what impact a world free of actors on film would have on the theatre scene.

Would it suddenly increase the attention paid to live performance? If people know they won't get "the real Brad Pitt" (pictured in digital form, above) when they go to a movie, a premium might be placed on getting to see him live on stage.

Of course, there is currently something of a premium on celebrity actors when they occasionally pop up in shows on Broadway and in the West End, though judging by the dismal ticket sales at the moment, it seems like even the biggest movie icons (eg Jane Fonda) aren't making people flock to the theatre.

But putting celebrities aside for a moment, I wonder if the disappearance of actors from films will actually change the face of theatre and audiences as we know it? Actors of all stripes may suddenly truly aspire to working on stage (as opposed as seeing it, as many do, as a mere stepping stone for television and film careers). Bored of sitting in front of zombies made of bits and bytes, audiences might start flocking to see plays, musicals, comedy shows and operas. Wow. Imagine that. The mind boggles.

Honestly, though, I can't see this future coming to pass, at least not anytime soon. Which is probably a good thing, even though I do like to fantasize about how it might revolutionize theatre. The disappearance of live actors from movie screens would be a terrible thing for film art. On balance, I don't think I'd like to see technology take over, even if it does go some way towards increasing the kudos of the stage


  • I think we're safe from this for the time period. While We are increasingly able to make digital creatures look more real, we still need a human behind the process to make it work. I think that makeup artists are in more danger than actors are, at least in terms of age makeup, or monsters.

    As an example: I quite liked Beowulf, the film, but the most compelling performance was Crispin Glover's, and he was the last human looking of the batch. As nice as it was to have the humans look like they belonged in the same world as Grendel, his mother, and the dragon, the performances weren't as good as they would have been as a live action piece.

    Making Brad Pitt look like a four foot tall octogenarian is one thing. Making a digital Brad Pitt who looks just like Brad Pitt normally does, is something else... and 99% of the time would just be damn silly.

    By Blogger Dan Wilson, At February 17, 2009 at 11:30 AM  

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