Recently, I saw the production of All the Way at the American Repertory Theater starring Bryan Cranston. The playwright, Robert Schenkkan, specifically wrote in the use of television monitors as a backdrop to this play, which ART compromised using a projection that resembled television. It was not until I browsed HowlRound and read Jonathan Mandell’s 8 Ways Television Is Influencing Theater, that I realized the importance of such an inclusion.
Mandell’s definition of “stunt casting” stood out the most. A derivative of the celebrity cameo, stunt casting is used to sell seats by the inclusion of a celebrity in a production. Mandell’s concerns are completely founded; as reality television becomes more and more of an influencing form of the medium, the term “celebrity” becomes more and more broad. However, I doubt that Snooki (is she still relevant?) will be headlining Broadway any time soon.
He forgets the astronomic impact that celebrities may have on the productions and what kind of influence that particular celebrity might bring. For example, Bryan Cranston in All the Way. Breaking Bad was (and still is) insanely popular on a college campus. One would be hard pressed not to find a poster of Bryan Cranston at a college poster sale. However, the audiences that would normally go see a play are not necessarily the same audience that would watch a drug lord once a week. Still at ART, Zachary Quinto in The Glass Menagerie just came off of the financially successful Star Trek franchise. Trekkies and theater goers don’t exactly seem like they would overlap too much, but there was definitely that opportunity.
Stunt casting then becomes a dramaturgical tool, bringing in new audiences into the theatre who would otherwise sat at home and watched television, not that there is anything wrong with that. New audiences might mean new artists, and new artists definitely means new art and new ideas.
Maybe this is a moment of trying to preserve a form that does not seem as influential as the forms surrounding it which is completely understandable. If the audience is not full, then it seems to be empty. Theater is not as accessible as a group of characters beamed into a box in a living room.
Even so, Shakespeare had to compete with prostitutes and bear-baiting, and he still made theatre function.
This tool certainly comes with its risks, and they should be risks that are taken.
Personally, I am part of a generation that does not know this theoretical world without television, so this medium is innocuous for me. To actually think about how something as recent as television influenced a form as ancient as theatre struck a chord in the best possible way.