Monday, June 7, 2010

Theater? Theatre? What's in a name?

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Theater or Theatre? What's in a name?

The word theater is a purely American word derived from the British word theatre.
Back in the 1830s the champion of American English, Noah Webster, freed Americans of some archaic British spellings and tried to standardize American English. Metre became meter, centre became center and most notably for us, theatre became theater.

However,  American theater has always had many British actors and directors who stick to the Queen's English. And many American actors trying to put forward a high-class reputation have stood with them. It is just the proper way to associate with the long and glorious history of theatre. British theatre.

Okay, but it sounds a little stuffy to me. Ye Olde English Azteca Theatre Centre would never fit.
In Britain you might be in an "Estate Car" but in America it is a plain old "station wagon."
For that matter an American "truck" would be a "lorry" in British English. In America you put a silencer on your gun. In Britain "silencer" means "muffler" on a car. 
So it goes.

The differences are often subtle, but telling about our cultures.  The American English language has borrowed much from many cultures. It has become a very flexible and friendly language for international understanding and communication. One culture from the many, united under an inspired constitution.. Even the Internet started in American English.
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American theaters have programs, British theatres have programmes.
While American and British people understand each other and respect each other, it is fine to be a little different. However, I side with Noah Webster, and in America we have theaters.

Here in Fresno, some theaters are know in their official business name as theatres. They are allowed their insecurities.

Call us the "Azteca Theater." An  American gathering place to see something interesting. Americans from South of the border,  across the Pacific Ocean or just down the road. The Azteca is proud to be a theater. If you were born in Britain, okay, I forgive you for Azteca Theatre. Or if you speak Spanish as a first language,  call us "Teatro Azteca." It is fair to say that just as many people in California know the Azteca Theater as the  Teatro Azteca. And it is a heritage the Azteca is proud to carry. A theater for all  people, mostly Americans, known in English as the Azteca Theater.

- David Owens

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