on spelling theater

When I started writing this site, I took a firm stand on the spelling of “theater” as concept, as institution, as practice.

As an American, I am burdened by two co-existing spellings of the object of my affection — place and practice. Theatre or Theater? Research tells me that the “er” version was introduced by Noah Webster in the 1830s as part of his attempt to Americanize spellings of English words. We lost “colour” and all those other extra “u”s, and we gained this new spelling of “theatre” as “theater.” And the preference for “er” is a later 20th-century phenomenon.

Well.  I like “theatre” as do many of my theatre-writing colleagues. I shall use the word spelled as theater when I am directly quoting someone else who spells it that way in print or when I’m referencing the name of a building or producing company that has chosen to spell its name that way. Otherwise, Webster be damned, this American gal is going with theatre.

Between June of 2012 and January of 2016, in my work for Chance Magazine as contributor and Editor in Chief, I incorporated the opposite style sheet stance — using “theater” in all cases except when naming an institution or a company or a movement that makes another choice where their “Theatre” is capitalized. Clearly the question is to select a style and stick with it.

I’ve now come to embrace the everyday “theater” spelling.

My past postings will remain as they were. Re-postings of articles that first appear elsewhere (HowlRound or TDF Stages or other publications) will retain the style choice of the original editors. And everyone — carry on.

 

3 comments on “on spelling theater”

  1. I was told in my undergrad years that “theater” represented the building, whereas “theatre” represented the art.

    Sounded good to me.

    1. Ah I was taught something similar, many moons ago. Then I started working in theater professionally and reviewing productions and working with a range of companies who called themselves “theatre” and their buildings “theatre” …. so I developed my own default rules (that have changed over time). And what a company calls itself or its building trumps any general rule for me.

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