A constant debate between fans of both art forms is whether movies are better than live theater. Some consider theater productions to be outdated and out-stripped by the technological capabilities of film. Others believe that film is too often a sell-out, pawning substandard plots and writing through excessive special effects and gimmicks to draw a crowd. Yet both forms have the ability to attain astounding levels of quality and to affect their audience on an intensely personal level, although using different methods.
Live theater has an air of controlled chaos about it that is impossible to replicate. Each performance will be subtly different, depending on a variety of factors. Expert actors are able to assess the overall mood of their audience and adjust their performance accordingly. However, if the audience is difficult to read or finds the subject matter offensive, an otherwise excellent production can be dragged through a terrible night.
It is precisely this uncertainty that makes theater appealing to many. The audience can be drawn in simply through the recognition that they are not watching a recorded performance but live people. The more emotionally involved the audience becomes, the more the actors can play off the atmosphere they are receiving. Actors frequently mention the dead silence that can fill a theater during a heightened moment of drama, which lets them know that the audience is raptly attending the action.
Film, in many ways, is a safer medium. Performances are recorded and a single line or scene may be filmed ten or fifteen times. The work then gets further review and selection in the editing process, allowing the editor and director to choose the best versions that complement the whole of the film. While this removes the element of spontaneity, it also can ensure a well-balanced film free of technical or acting mishaps. If an actor misses a line, they can simply start over.
The greatest advantage film has over live theater is technological. Because audiences have to suspend their disbelief less in film, they can more easily become immersed in the world on screen. With surround sound, computer generated images, and carefully selected musical tracks, a lusher and more believable world can be created on screen. Additionally, some styles of filming and even individual film shots can be used to create a more intimate environment and put the audience right in the action.
The limitations of the stage can be disastrous, but can also be freeing. By not needing to concentrate on fully realized or even fully realistic settings, the director, playwright and cast can concentrate better on the plot and characters. Badly written and acted films are often excused by great special effects; badly acted plays almost never are given positive reviews based on production value.
Whether you prefer film or live theater is truly a matter of personal taste. For any enthusiast of performing arts, both genres can offer a wealth of sweeping experiences. Individuals may try to tell you that one is demonstrably better than the other, but the truth is they are two titans of artistic expression, guided and aided by one another.