Real Live Theater

Theater vs. Theatre: food for more thought

In An Invitation for You, Editor's Note, Who's watching? on February 8, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Editor’s Note


Food for More Thought

It seems as though everyone has a valid reason for choosing either theatER or theatRE to spell, well, to spell theatER or theatRE, usually based on: the context in which the word is being used; the country in or continent on which it is being used; which respected figure of some authority or expertise is consulted; and whether Wikipedia or some other dictionary is the reference guide of choice. 

In the case of Real Live Theater, the ‘er’ version was selected over the ‘re’ version simply for practical purposes — we wanted people to find us on the internet. In our attempt to discover which spelling people would most likely search for us under, we devised a survey, groundbreaking for its use of exceptionally low-to-no technology: we distributed paper towels and pens randomly around a crowed room and verbally instructed people simply to write ‘real live theater/theatre’ on the towels, without any further explanation or debate, and without any mention of the spelling variations to choose from. In fact, the participants were not so much as even informed why they were being asked to participate in this exercise. When all twenty-five paper towels were collected and the results were tallied, it was revealed with great astonishment, that ‘real live theater’ (the ‘er’ version) was written on all twenty-five paper towels. With the announcement of the final results, RealLiveTheatER.ORG was born, but the larger debate still raged on: when is theatER appropriate and when is theatRE appropriate to use?

We have looked though our lists of theaters (or theatres, as the case may be) and have discovered that roughly half of those on our lists use the ‘er’ version and half use the ‘re’ spelling.

In the theatER camp we find Alternative Theater Ensemble, Novato Theater Company, Theater Rhinoceros, Orpheum Theater, Gershwin Theater, Cinnabar Theater, Pegasus Theater Company, Roustabout Theater, Sonoma County Repertory Theater, theater4, id Theater, Boston Conservatory Theater, Open Circle Theater, College of Marin Theater Arts Department, The Kennedy Center Theater and North Bay Theater Group, among others.

In ther theatRE camp we find Magic Theatre, Actors Theatre of San Francisco, Goodman Theatre, The New Conservatory Theatre Center, Traveling Jewish Theatre, Porchlight Theatre Company, Marin Theatre Company, Mendocino Theatre Company, Ukiah Players Theatre, Willits Community Theatre, Benicia Old Town Theatre Group, Summer Repertory Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre and Theatre Bay Area, among others.

Please take a moment to complete the simple one-question survey below and let us know which spelling you use.

If you would like to share your reasons for choosing one spelling or the other, or would like to elaborate on the appropriate circumstances in which to use either spelling, please click the red ‘Comment’ button below and share your thoughts with us. (Click here to see previously submitted comments on this subject.)

Cheryl Itamura is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Real Live Theater.

  1. I tend to use either pr both depending upon the connotation or denotation I’m attempting to convey thru the visual usage… quick crude examples:
    “This Saturday, real live theatre is to be performed on our local theater stage.” indicates something classier in the local movie house.
    “This Saturday, real live theatre will be performed in our beloved theatre downtown.” giving a sense of age and history
    “I love Theatre, but don’t care for most theaters…”

  2. AlterTheater chose theatER because we think live performances should be accessible and fun. A professional copy editor was one of our core founding members, and argued that theatRE derived from England, and anything associated with England was naturally considered snobby by Americans. We found that older folks tended to believe that theater was a building and theatre was the actual art form. However, according to the dictionaries we looked at, that distinction no longer seems to be true. So, riding a future-oriented wave, AlterTheater is a theatER company.

  3. Phoenix Arts Association Theatre chose TheatRE because we associated TheatER with film & movie venues…and perhaps our European, East coast and English origins associated the RE spelling with higher quality art which we strive to produce.

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