There’s a few well known quotes that basically espouse the idea that what makes theatre special among all the storytelling mediums is impermanence. A book will last as it’s in print and people buy it, a film as long as there are copies in circulation. But theatre is different; even if a play has many productions and interpretations, each essentially represents a new artwork and once it’s finished, that’s it. Even the most long running plays will essentially offer a different experience night to night, as different actors step in or new inflections give new meaning to previously unimportant lines or moments. Despite our best efforts, theatre shows are never exactly the same twice, and that’s part of what makes them so thrilling and exciting. You are watching these actors live in front of you, and anything could go wrong at any moment. If you wanted to you could get up and run on stage and break the spell (don’t ever do that) or the lights could fail or a prop could break or someone could forget a line. Plays don’t have the luxury of being pre-recorded and every successful show is, in some ways, a minor miracle.
Of course you can always film a play, but watching a recording is never the same in a medium that is designed to be live. And while some plays are turned into films or radio dramas, taking away the ‘live’ part of live theatre will always, to some degree or another, take something away.
It’s for this reason that the end of any play is bittersweet. Especially in independent theatre, where your best efforts to fill seats will never quite bring in the numbers you’d ideally like and there will always be a couple of friends or family members you wish could have seen the show who didn’t. I have always been guilty of insisting at the end of any of my shows that this needn’t be the end, that we can go on to tour or do another season in a bigger theatre or develop it into a film or something, but on a certain level this isn’t much more than me being in denial about the end of something that meant a lot to me.
Certain plays of mine have had encores. Beyond Babylon appeared at a couple of one act play festivals, while The Lucas Conundrum made appearances in regional towns after its first season finished. But none of these encores were extensive, and certainly none of them eclipsed the original runs.
But after years of threatening to take shows on the One Act Play circuit one of them has managed to get there with some degree of success. Heroes finished its Melbourne run with good audiences and great reviews, but actors Matt Phillips and Blake Stringer saw potential to take it further, and so Heroes was entered in most of the Victorian Drama League festivals. While I was glad to see the life of the show extended, I didn’t pay much attention to the process. Until the show premiered at the Gemco festival and won best production. Then did the same at Mansfield. Then had a great one-off show in Benalla that led to offers for further touring engagements after that. And suddenly Heroes seems to be in the prime of its performing life, rather than in protracted death throes.
In many ways Heroes is the perfect touring show. Coming in at a tight forty five minutes after a few edits, with a sparse set and only two actors, it is singularly easy to take from theatre to theatre. And furthermore, it happens to be pretty good.
While this might sound like a case of the writer blowing his own horn, it’s hard to argue with reviews and audiences who sit in riveted silence but for the occasional gasps and laughs at all the right moments. I can’t tell you how awesome it felt to be sitting in the Mansfield festival last weekend and to hear total strangers telling each other that ‘you have to see Heroes’ and that it is ‘the one to beat.’ And while yeah, I have always been one to let my imagination run away with me, it’s hard not to wonder about the ongoing potential of this play. Performances in Brisbane and Sydney, maybe in conjunction with Movie Maintenance live shows, seem well within the realm of possibility, and if they work out then why not go further? Why not bring it back for another Melbourne season if it continues to win awards on the One Act Play Circuit? Basically, why not take whatever chance we can to get this play in front of as many eyes as possible? Heroes still has quite a few One Act Play Festival engagements to go and after that it’s almost a definite that it will make at least a couple of other appearances, but as far as I’m concerned the longer we can keep this train going the better.
A radio play has already been recorded, so I guess that Heroes has already been preserved in a way that means a version of it will always be available, but for my money the best way to experience this story will be to see the live stage version, and even if an ongoing season/tour doesn’t get huge audiences, then at least we will know that we gave as many people as possible the chance to see a play that all involved are extremely proud of and, based on the accolades and response, is very worth seeing.
Just some thoughts.