For many years now I have been religiously watching Greys Anatomy, the long running American medical TV drama set in a Seattle hospital. Admittedly I was late to find out about this drama series, but after watching a few episodes I found myself instantly hooked into the drama.
Over the weekend I was fortunate to catch the season finale of season 6. I wasn’t quite expecting such a dramatic double-bill episode crammed packed with action and drama. For anyone who has not seen it, I will stay clear of all plot spoilers. However, let me just say, I cried numerous amounts of times, I hid behind a cushion on my sofa, and at one point I had to stop to make myself a strong cup of tea just to calm myself down. It was a roller-coaster ride of emotions for me.
This got me thinking about what was happening within these episodes, and the connection I had formed with the characters. When these characters were put into jeopardy of dying, it felt like a whole part of the emotional connection I had with the show was dying – and it hurt.
Gradually over the years of watching six seasons, I had built up a strong knowledge of the characters. I know their emotions, their relationships and friendships and can remember everything they had gone through in each series. To see that connection, built up over such a long time, end… well, perhaps it’s no wonder I couldn’t help but cry.
What of theatre though? Whilst I am talking about Greys Anatomy, an American sitcom – this is a theatre site, so where is the link? During my emotional roller-coaster, and my hiding behind cushions I thought to myself… have I ever felt such a connection with a character from a play before? Have I ever completely broken down at the thought of a character I had connected with in a play had died?
The answer is generally no. There are of course connections I have made. I have shed a tear or two watching 4.48 Psychosis recently at the Barbican – but I didn’t break down like I did the other night. In fact, I have never openly wept to such an extent in the theatre that I could say I have severed a connection with a character or story I truly felt connected with.
A number of arguments spring forth, the first being that my viewing of a TV drama can happen in the privacy of my own home, where as predominately theatre is shared with the general public who meet in a central location to watch live drama. The second argument can be seen in the length of time I have connected with a theatre show compared to that of a TV drama. Waiting For Godot might be 3 hours long, but that is nothing compared to the many many hours I have sat and watched Greys Anatomy for.
Is it possible to feel such a connection with a character from a theatre play within the space of 3 hours? Can you build up that connection to the extent that you understand their motives and connect emotionally to them? I think in its simplest form of going to the theatre and watching a play, one of the intentions is to engage and thus to understand and connect. But to what extent?
There certainly isn’t a right or wrong answer, and each concluded opinion is subjective to what a person sees in the difference between TV and theatre. Naturally playwrights write to engage their audience with the hope of making a connection. They lay the dialogue, the plot and the conflicts to provoke a certain engagement with their audience through the story.
I think you have to consider the size of the connection or emotion you are dealing with. Just because you are not weeping in the stalls, does not mean you have not experienced something of the same power and emotion that you’ve had with a long-running tv drama. It belongs to the value you place within these connections.
Theatre is live, is for the now. It’s engagement can not be compared or measured to that of the pre-recorded television, or can it?
Whatever your thoughts might be on the subject of the level of emotion you are willing to find within theatre, I for one, won’t be found sobbing into my tissues any time soon. I have a reputation to hold, but that doesn’t mean I’m not connected to the characters or story.