Bloody Well Write

September 22, 2009

Theatre vs. theater

Some people say that when it comes to spelling that which is theater — er, theatre — it all comes down to snobbery. Well, to that I say,” Poo-poo to you.”

Outside of the United States, especially in countries that had once been under British control, the word is typically spelled theatre. Those who fought to keep the British spelling didn’t want the proper language to become diluted by a bunch of insolent miscreants — bloody Americans. Stateside, however, theater won out as the predominant spelling. Back in the early 1800s, Noah Webster created “An American Dictionary of the English Language” to Americanize the language of the day, taking out as many British-isms as he could manage. One result: Theatre became theater.

It is prudent to maintain the spelling of any company or movie house or whatnot that happens to spell its name one way, even if you think it should be the other. Some examples:

Music Theatre of Wichita

AMC Theatres

Theatre Rhinoceros (but San Francisco Live Queer Theater)

The Theater section of The New York Times

•  “Paradise Theater” by Styx (but Paradise Theatre in Gig Harbor, Wash.)

There is, however, another distinction between the two words that is gaining in popularity. Even though the AP Stylebook hasn’t come around to agreeing yet (but they will), I think that it makes simple sense and provides a reason to use one spelling instead of another, depending on context. And, of course, since the nature of the English language is one of constant transition, I’m all for promoting the separate — yet equal — definitions. (Go ahead, AP: Put up your dukes.)

Going to the theatre tonight — or maybe they ARE the theatre? (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/a2gemma/40151793)

Going to the theatre tonight — or maybe they are the theatre (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/a2gemma/40151793)

Theatre = anything related to a performance or study of an art form, which is not a structure (e.g., a degree, a company, a troupe).

Theater = a structure that houses a dramatic production (e.g., movie, play, musical, opera, ballet, dance).

So: If you are going to the theater (bricks and mortar) to work on scene construction or set up lights or mow the front lawn, cool. If you’re getting all dolled up for an evening at the theatre (very posh), have a mahhhvelous time, dahhhling.

Easy as “Waiting for Godot.”

Happy trails!

SAK

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2 Comments »

  1. Sheila!….. my ‘old’ drama student! Love this article. I agree with it totally. Although I don’t think I could ever use ‘er’ for any reason, even if others try to make the change. I’m too old and ’tis my craft. I’ll stick with Theatre. Love your blog and Da Mama C Luvs Ya!

    Comment by Mom Cusick — September 25, 2009 @ 10:47 am | Reply


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