So, anyway, yes it was and always is worth whatever you can pay to be in the theater, in the moment that the play’s the thing.
Digital images of a van Gogh painting will give you the basic nuts and bolts of color, composition, and overall import. But they will never give you the history of the painter’s marks, the choices of when to make this gesture, or when to use cobalt instead of ultramarine. The exact thickness of an agonized brush stroke. For that you need to be face to face with the actual oil painting.
It is a mutual pact of energy between the actors and the audience. To be in a darkened theater, feeling the collective breathing of the audience as it responds to the smallest, sudden, unique gesture of the actor’s voice and body. To be completely there, and ready when the smallest new innovation, and unplanned physical grace note erupts, only that once, from the ensemble on the stage—this searing fairytale intimacy is why you endure arduous travel, long hours, uncomfortable seats, a paucity of ladies rooms, whatever it takes, because in the living moment of performance the artwork becomes immortal.
The actors work not only with cerebral intelligence, but with bodily intelligence. The intelligence of the fingers, the feet, the voice. At any unplanned moment they may deliver a line through the raising of one eyebrow. The audience murmurs its agreement. In the case of Cumberbatch last week, he may reinforce the anger of a decision with a single leap onto the table, or the slowing, growling, snarl of a single word.
We are there. We are with him. Our bodies hum. And he can sense it. It is an intense dance—when it’s done right. That’s why you’re in that seat, that darkened camera obscura of the imagination. The man who put the definitive sheen on the English language (Wm. Shakespeare) lives most fully in those moments of performance. All the rest is archival recording. Sweet and important, but nowhere near the eros and eternity of live performance.
You know what I’m talking about. You know I’m right. I worked hard and saved up. It was worth the trouble and the planning. The problem with it all is that once you experience this level of theatrical performance, you can’t go back.