What You Do and Where You Do It Are Two Different Things

It’s the age old question: How do you spell that word which according to Mirriam Webster means:

“an outdoor structure for dramatic performances or spectacles” or “a building or area for dramatic performances” or for “showing motion pictures” or “dramatic representation as an art or profession”

Ok, perhaps not age old but a recurring question in the arts is often something like “Is it Watamama Theatre or Watamama Theater?” Usually pronounced for distinction as “the-a-tree” and “the-a-terr.”

I’ve heard many a gripe about this. There are folks who says it’s simply two variant spellings of the same word and damn-it this is America and it should be the-a-terr. We should leave the “colour” and “metre” and other such things to the Brits.

Then there are folks who don’t care one way or the other and aren’t bothered by either spelling.

And there are folks like me. And apparently a few others, who think there’s a general usage rule or difference. In fact, there’s one article that states

“I talked to one of my theater professors and he informed me that it was his impression that theat-re is the art form that one performs and theat-er is the building in which one shows that work. Given that this man has a bachelors degree, a masters degree, and a doctorate in theater, this is the rule that I always tend to follow.”

This is exactly how I’ve tended to use the word over the past twenty years or so. Why?

I’m not sure. Probably because theatre companies can be nomadic or homebound, and can be a “tree” or an “err”, but the building itself, including movie theaters, are almost always an “err”.

That and the fact that the School of Theatre at which I spent many a year and dollar was just that, and I figure if that’s what’s on my degree and if it’s how my locale of higher education spelled it, then that’s what I’ve got. A degree in theatre. Not theater.

Call me pretentious.


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