A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Theatres
While living in London for the past few months, I have gotten to experience quite a few differences between theatre in the United Kingdom and the United States. Though popular in both regions, theatre and the culture behind it varies in several ways from country to country. From little details like the spelling of the word itself to how audiences act at shows, these dissimilarities help make up what theatre culture is like in each country.
As a lover of the arts and an audience member new to British theatre, these differences were very apparent to me and I looked to find out why they existed. One variation I have noticed is that people here in the UK tend to leisurely spend time at the bar before the show begins and enter the auditorium on their own time without needing to be told to go in. They are also able to take drinks inside the theatre itself and are offered ice cream to eat inside at intermission. This change was extremely strange and luxurious to me since in America, most theatres do not allow any food or drink (sometimes not even water) into the auditorium, and will make people finish their food and drink in the lobby area. There is also a more persistent, structured need in the U.S. to make sure everyone is ready and in their seats before the show begins and that the show itself starts on time. If people are still in the lobby or bar 5-15 minutes before the show begins, guides will tell them to move in and flicker the lobby lights to let everyone know that the show is starting soon and that anyone who wants to see it should get in their seats.
I also immediately noticed a difference in how people treat outings to shows. The overall attitude of British theatre is much more relaxed than in the United States, an attitude where people appreciate the art they see but are still much more casual in how they attend. At first I was not sure why this was the case, but I now presume it is because theatre has been a staple of British culture for centuries, and today it is seen as a part of everyday life in the United Kingdom.
In the United States, however, theatre is not as engraved in our society’s culture. Theatres there are given little to no financial support from the government, and while government funding differs from the U.K. to the U.S. in general, this lack of artistic funding partially shows that theatrical arts are not seen as a particularly imperative or prominent part of American culture. Although it is popular and beloved by many, theatre did not really become widespread, largely accessible or socially accepted in the U.S. until after the Civil War in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Soon after its popularization, film began- leaving theatre loved but also in competition with motion pictures for the support of audiences. The relatively recent and rocky history of theatre in the U.S. may be part of why Americans today tend to view theatrical productions as special events rather than a way of life.
While theatre and the arts in general are respected and appreciated in both the United Kingdom and the United States, certain differences still exist in both how productions are created and how people treat them. These changes in attitude, behavior, and value regarding theatre reflect the results of the history and growth of theatre and the arts in both nations.