Form and Function
By Kamal Sunavala

When Louis Sullivan, the American master architect, laid down the words 'form follows function' he probably didn't think this would mean much to anyone involved in theatre.

Saturday night is usually reserved for dignified culture. Theatre forms part of that definition and is something most societies are deeply passionate about, whether it be its nurturing or its extermination. Professional performances are well advertised and glorified and are often excellent as they promised to be. But the underdog of theatre - experimental theatre - is still a fledgling which needs encouragement and investment. Recently, I went to a small experimental space near Letenské Náměstí to see a small experimental production by actors who were Canadian, American, Czech and I apologise if I have left out a nationality. I went there in a two-fold capacity. As a paying member of the audience and as a professional theatre artist. I wear both hats easily and it never interferes with my capacity to be entertained. The production was in English and was performed to an English speaking audience from various countries.

Amateur theatre is well appreciated by audiences the world over when it is entertaining. Professional theatre meets the same fate. Experimental, absurdist, mime, commedia dell'arte, kabuki or any form of theatre that you can think of, is well appreciated if it is entertaining. You see where I am leading?

Just like architecture, in theatre too, function comes first. Theatre has a function. It must entertain. It may provoke thought, rage, argument, laughter, tears, silence, war or peace but above all of these, it must entertain. It must entertain without the audience having to rely on the crutch of intellectualising the performance, excusing the foibles on account of poor funding, self-castigation for ignorance and certainly pseudo-intellectualising the production effort. The audience simply must be entertained. Prague especially, is a city that entertains grandly. Why then, does a production where the actors have clearly toiled over, fail to entertain? Can the meaning of entertainment be challenged, be subjective, be dismantled to accommodate the failure to entertain? Whatever the form the production took, whether pleasing or disturbing is of little meaning to an audience when they are struggling to be entertained.

I saw individual pieces being performed, little soliloquies, little songs, little personal frustrations being vented on stage, the occasional inspiring use of light and costume and a lot of chutzpah from a couple of performers. It was sometimes about love, sometimes about the quest for a soul, sometimes about the tedium of everyday life, sometimes a commentary on modern day politics and always about performing to indulge one's own fantasies, rather than performing to and for an audience. Being an actor, I am well aware of the fact that every actor complains about not being understood, about the audience being a bunch of philistines, about critics being snooty and overly critical, unsympathetic to the actor's art, to the writer's message, to the director's vision yada yada yada. Granted, all of that makes sense. All of it has merit. All of it leads to a better understanding of and appreciation for the stage.

Being an actor who happens to also be a viewing member of the audience, I am always acutely aware of the fact that these are excuses. I am the audience. The recipient of your words and actions. Under all circumstances, I must be entertained. They failed. If theatre in Prague is encouraging thought, is encouraging more performances, it should be aware that it cannot forget that form always follows function.

Wine and cheese conversations after the show are a pleasant if sometimes hypocritical affair. I chose to eavesdrop and lurk to hear the truth. The audience that left almost ran out of there. The audience that hung around politely listened to pretentious rubbish while wishing they were home watching Tom and Jerry cartoons. Wake up actors. Don't forget your basic function. You live in a city that is entertaining. Learn to entertain.


P.S. Dictionary definition of entertain:
Amuse or interest audience: to engage a person or audience by providing amusing or interesting material.