The Playgoer: That's TheatER to you, pal

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

That's TheatER to you, pal

Among new A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus' first moves? Getting rid of that "re" in "theatre."

I guess it is an "American" Rep, damnit! I'm curious, though, whether Paulus will make it so in more than name. Perhaps no company has been so misnamed, as ever since Robert Brustein's days, followed by Robert Woodruff, the programming has been so heavily, heavily Euro. And European-Directors-TheatRE influenced.

As for the re/er thing...dare I open that can of worms? As for myself, I admit it: I'm an elitist. In academia, the "re" is still standard, while "er" seems on the rise amongst practitioners (cf. Paulus). Personally, I also find it useful to distinguish the art of the theatre from just a theater building. Just google either spelling and you'll see what I mean.

Okay, can open, worms attacking. Thoughts?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

the practitioners have the only opinion that counts.

spelling it theatre, centre, lustre, sceptre, litre, and goitre doesn't make you academic. it makes you either british or pompous. haven't you railed against both recently?

Rob Weinert-Kendt said...

When I write for most newspapers, the style is "er" (but then, their style is also typically to put titles in quotes, which is kinda silly, but I ain't writing the rules). When I write for American Theatre, however--well, it's in the masthead. I think at Back Stage West we mandated "re," following Back Stage's rules. Personally I've come to prefer "er."

The Playgoer said...

Yes, Anon. Not only do I admit to being an elitist, but also a hypocrite. (Or is that, AN hypocrite? Hmm...)

Another thing is that to me, the word "theatre" has a history. Albeit a British history. But it seems to me it has a history more associated with the things I write about than "-er" whose history--in this country at least--pertains mostly to buildings. That's my sense of it at least, not a totally informed historical judgment. (Or is that, "judgEment"? Hmm..._)

Anonymous said...

hahaha!

American English has its own history... we changed the spelling of so many things after the revolution, and I don't think it had anything to do with buildings. The founders, as well as Yalies like Noah Webster, wanted a version of the English language that would be entirely our own. Hence "-er," etc.

Mark Fossen said...

I quite agree with your distinction between a building and an artform. It's a movie theater vs. a piece of theatre.

austinbarrow said...

From a southerner's point of view, I think either are fine as long as we can all agree that it is not the-ATEr.

Seth Christenfeld said...

At the risk of changing the subject: I'm a lot less concerned with the spelling than I am with the season that Paulus has laid out for her debut.

Ken said...

Call me a pretentious twit, but I just love that "re."

Kevin Ashworth said...

ER

Robert Stanton said...

This artform/building distinction is bogus. Usage is interchangeable, unless, of course, you're writing about Lincoln Center Theater; Lincoln Center Theatre would look silly. No one in the U.S. spells center "centre."

Noah Webster, in de-anglifying American English in the early 19th Century, changed theatre to theater. But theatrical impresarios clung to the "re" at the end, in order to make a low enterprise seem classy.

This theatre practitioner thinks that spelling the physical structure *and* the art form "theatre" is both correct and unpretentious, and that spelling it "theater" is also correct and not virtuous.

Theater of Ideas said...

I often feel like Untitled Theater Co. #61 is one of the last holdouts...thanks Diane.

To me, it feels like we are trying to be British or European when we go for theatre. I love European theatre. But I love American theater too, and that, by accident of birth, is where I'm from.

Jeff P said...

I was at Diane Paulus' press conference this week and during Q&A, I asked if she cared to comment on the change. She did, saying that given the "American" in American Repertory Theatre (now ER), it seemed only appropriate to make the change to the spelling more associated with American theater. Additionally, she indicated, keeping on message with her vision she has oft repeated, that she is thinking of things first from her audience's perspective. To that end, she indicated, theater might be more accessible than "re".

cgeye said...

If she's thinking about the potential perspective of the audience she's aiming for -- people who'd have a problem spelling theater 'theatre' -- well, why the heck not get rid of that orthographic monstrosity 'repertory'?

Is ART a true repertory theater, anymore?

Why not call it US Rep Theater? That's easy.

I use the re/er dichotomy the same most do: Theater = physical plant/Theatre = artform. If we have the spelling difference, why not use it?

Like said above, show me her commitment to American playwriters and directors, and she can spell anything any damn way she wants.

(and yeah, I meant to do that -- will 'playwrighting' be next?)

cgeye said...

oh, and did anyone else not know about the Chadwyck online play collections?

Depending on which library you have a relationship with, you might have access to this database of UK, US and English language world plays. Check it out, if you can...

http://lion.chadwyck.com/marketing/index.jsp

cgeye said...

Oh, and this:
So, here we'll see six productions. Two (Donkey Show and Best of Both Worlds) are standing productions created by Paulus and her husband Randy Weiner; Best of Both Worlds presumably uses previous cast members skilled in gospel, which ART rep actors ain't. Two productions (Sleep No More and Gatz) are presented by outside theatre companies, which leaves two productions (Paradise Lost, Red Sox Nation) being majority-cast by ART members.

At least when other AD's take over a repertory company, they're up-front about whether they're keeping repertory actors on, or how they'll use those actors under a new creative focus. Has Paulus had any public discussions about who stays or who goes? Has anyone objected to the new focus on preexisting productions, or is it new? Is it a focus on outside-designed content, but with now American creatives instead of European?

Anonymous said...

The English English "theatre" is from the French. "Theater" is how the Germans spell it. Let's leave "er" to movie theaters, "re" for playhouses and live performance.

Abigail Katz said...

I'm an "re" girl myself...

Robin Rice Lichtig said...

I only use "re" if it is the capitalized, proper noun name of a theater company that spells its name that way. For the just plain noun, be it referring to the stage to a movie house or to guys break dancing in the subway - that's theater. It's never been confusing to me.