I've been thinking a lot about continuity recently. It's a line of thought ignited by helping a friend working on a TV pilot, and it's interesting because it highlights an important and often ignored difference between theater and cinema. Cinema is essentially infinitely articulated. In a single second, 24 individual images strike the eye. These images are only ever implicitly connected, each could have a life of its own as an entirely different medium (photography). When strung together they become cinematic. Even a strip of film comprised solely of 1,000 copies of the same image would be cinema when run through a projector.
Our eyes and brains work together to smooth out the rough articulation of the form. One thing so damn fantastic about Goddard is his jumpcuts; not really because they were "new," but because every cut is a jump cut. The camera is choosey, or it can be, and all the fat that exists in cinematic forms (establishing shots, walking across rooms, zooms) all of this can be thrown out the window at anytime. It's exhilarating. It gives cinema the chance to be sort of effortlessly poetic, to insist on the utmost importance of every image to throw away every unnecessary flicker.
This is very different onstage. If I enter stage right and want to be stage left, I'll be in full view at every point in between. I'm not a ghost on a screen, I'm just a body and a brain in the light.
But, I've had a fascination with blackouts since seeing The Unseen at A Red Orchid Theatre last winter. On one hand the discontinuity that blackouts create is filmic, but it's particularly interesting since its object is a body rather than an image. Let me be clearer, if I entered stage right and wanted to be stage left and there was a blackout in between - if you didn't see me cross - it would be kind of surprising. An audience wouldn't necessarily know how to read it. Did something magical happen? Did I transport? Why didn't they see the middle? The simple answer - that it wasn't interesting - probably would not occur. Fantastic!
Theater is in this sense a continuous form. Certain ridiculous persons with inordinate power at one time insisted that Theater be spatially unified, temporally unified. Though these people are all dead, the amount of theater still produced that takes place in a single room over the time it takes to say the lines is pretty remarkable. Conversely, movies like this (Rope for instance) are always notable.
I think we should love the freedom to be discontinuous. We actually have the technology to illuminate and disappear solid bodies onstage, to pop through time and space revealing only what is excellent. So, let's do it.