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Is the Theatre really dead?


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Or merely in it's final death throws? I think I see a twitch every now and then. What do Playwrights, Directors, and Theatre's need to do to breathe life back into this dying art form? Obviously the one main difference between Film and Theatre is the live aspect. The audience and the actors in the same room together, reacting to each other. The audience can impact a live theatre production. A film is the same every time you see it. You may notice different things, but it was always there and always will be. (Unless it's a Lucas film)

What else can Live Theatre offer that Film cannot?

I believe the live aspect of story telling should be preserved at all costs. What can Theatres do to remind the average joe what the live experience is like?

Exagerate the essential. Leave the obvious vague. ---Vincent Van Gogh

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What would it take for you to go see more live theatre?

For me, cheaper tickets would be a big start. I can go to 3 or 4 movies for the price of one play ticket. If the movie turns out to be a stinker, I can shrug off the $5 to $7 matinee, but if the play is bad I can be out anywhere from $15 to $40 bucks.

Exagerate the essential. Leave the obvious vague. ---Vincent Van Gogh

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What else can Live Theatre offer that Film cannot?

I think it was Brecht who answered this very question by saying that every act in the theatre is unrepeatable. That is the difference between theatre and film.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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What else can Live Theatre offer that Film cannot?

I think it was Brecht who answered this very question by saying that every act in the theatre is unrepeatable. That is the difference between theatre and film.

Yeah. I think that's what I was trying to say. Theatre is Live. It's different every time.

Is that it? Is that the only difference between film and theatre. If so is that enough?

Can theatre tell stories in a more compelling way than film? I think it can, however most of the Theatre that I have ever seen may as well have been on film or TV.

What types of stories are better told in a theatre setting rather than on film?

Exagerate the essential. Leave the obvious vague. ---Vincent Van Gogh

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I think this is a major reason for the decline of theatre:

What would it take for you to go see more live theatre?

For me, cheaper tickets would be a big start.

Live theatre has become prohibitively pricey. Not counting the college theatre shows I've seen, in the past 5 years I've only been to 4 plays, 1 of which I enjoyed. Them's bad odds. I'm not counting the college theatre shows because they either took no risks in terms of material (e.g. Little Shop of Horrors) or they didn't charge me (I was a student until recently).

The price issue is one I that I think leads to other problems. A ticket is expensive, so the audience wants to know what to expect. Will this experience justify my twenty-five dollars? The only sure bets are (often tired or uninspired) performances of tried-and-true Name Brand Plays, so they're favored over newer, less well known material. At the risk of $20, audiences tend to shy away from plays they don't know -- there are no "trailers" for theatre, and little word of mouth considering the short runs. It's just hard to pull people in.

That said, I've always enjoyed theatre. There is something special about a live performance that can't be captured in a video or a dvd. Theatre has an immediacy and energy that you can't really find anywhere else. It's sort of like why I like a live show over a cd: the energy and charisma and downright magic of watching art unfold in front of you, influenced by your presence and whatever energy you yourself bring to the table... it can be awesome. (And it can also bomb. Ick.) I've left plays before saying "Wow, that was totally worth [insert price of ticket]."

How to improve the state of theatre? Well, that I don't think I can help with. I'm a complainer, not a do-er... :wink:

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Here we go! My forte!

I think that theatre has become a largely snooty endeavor. And that people are as likely to see a show as they are to go to an art museum. Part of the blame goes to people of faith for abandonding the art form oh so long ago and leaving a durge of ammoral folks to take the helm and lead most of the theatre of the last twenty years toward homsexually or liberally agenda'd stuff.

However, I think that the art form is ready for a breath of fresh air. Post modernism (or at least this phase of it) is leading people to choose entertainment experiences that allow them to feel a part of what's occuring. (Churches are following the same pattern. Even WillowCreek has recently decided to move from a presentational model - where people can annoymously sit in a dark auditorium and enjoy a good show - to a participational model where people feel as though they have some stake in the church process - be it parking attendants, greeters, worship team, what have you.)

This, I believe is why improv comedy has seen a surgence of popularity in the last five-ten years. I think people want to feel as though they have an influence on the performance (and even though they always do in live theatre, they see it more powerfully in improv).

I was involved in an interactive theatre show in Salem, about the Witch Trials. And it was a huge success, largely with non-theatre folk. But they influenced the show greatly! They would cross examine witnesses, testify if they liked, and even determined the accused woman's fate.

So, I think the solution to theatre being restored as an influential art form is through:

1. Theatre that is understandable and not overtly offensive/morally disagreeable to 90% of the population. (i'm not saying we need 7th Heaven the stage play, just less crucifying naked black men with flags draped over their shoulders)

2. Theatre artists (especially in regional theatres) begin exploring more interactive forms of the medium.

My perosnal vision is to let the Church (or members of the church) lead the way back into this powerful art). I'm corrupting young minds to love theatre at an early age in my role as Theatre Director of a high school.

By the way - Jerzy Gratowski said the only thing theatre needs to be art is audience and actor. Which points out its unique dependence on audience.

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I'm fond of theater. Well, I'm fond of the things I see at South Coast Rep (one of the top flight of regional theaters) and Laguna Playhouse and on occasion in San Diego or La Jolla. The Taper has good stuff, too, but the seats are too narrow for my wide body. Each is working to bring new things to the stage. SCR has some readings of works in progress during the year which are great to go to, especially staying afterward for a discussion of what does or doesn't work to aid the playright in the process.

I'm less fond of the blockbusters (except for Les Miz which is a few hours of heaven). I never went to see Lion King; I doubt we'll see The Producers. Usually these kinds of shows are all glitz and no substance, sorta like so many blockbuster movies.

Quality in the theater is quality. Quality in film is quality. Crap is crap regardless of the medium.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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I had a friend performing on a tour of Cabaret which I happened to catch in Vancouver. I know we're not discussing the overall validity of theatre here, but that show put to rest ANY doubts. Unfortunately, it was in its last season.

I can't help but mention Shakespeare here. What can be done to bring the Bard back to the masses (where he originally was)? A good performance of, say, Hamlet is an astounding experience, but also a rare one. It seems as though so many companies approach his work with a dreadful stoicism, as if they're afraid to handle the time-worn words lest they shatter under the pressure. There must be something done.

So you ladies and you gentlemen, pull your bloomers on...

-Joe Henry

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 Part of the blame goes to people of faith for abandonding the art form oh so long ago and leaving a durge of ammoral folks to take the helm.

***Amen brother!

However, I think that the art form is ready for a breath of fresh air.  Post modernism (or at least this phase of it) is leading people to choose entertainment experiences that allow them to feel a part of what's occuring.  (Churches are following the same pattern. Even WillowCreek has recently decided to move from a presentational model - where people can annoymously sit in a dark auditorium and enjoy a good show - to a participational model where people feel as though they have some stake in the church process - be it parking attendants, greeters, worship team, what have you.)  

***Green Lake (The church Jeff and I go to) is very interactive.  A lot of responsive reading and congregation participation.  

This, I believe is why improv comedy has seen a surgence of popularity in the last five-ten years. I think people want to feel as though they have an influence on the performance (and even though they always do in live theatre, they see it more powerfully in improv).  

***I am part of an couple of Improv teams here and Seattle, and it can be very rewarding for me, especially when the audience is really into it.  

So, I think the solution to theatre being restored as an influential art form is through:

1. Theatre that is understandable and not overtly offensive/morally disagreeable to 90% of the population. (i'm not saying we need 7th Heaven the stage play, just less crucifying naked black men with flags draped over their shoulders)

2. Theatre artists (especially in regional theatres) begin exploring more interactive forms of the medium.  

My perosnal vision is to let the Church (or members of the church) lead the way back into this powerful art).  I'm corrupting young minds to love theatre at an early age in my role as Theatre Director of a high school.

By the way - Jerzy Gratowski said the only thing theatre needs to be art is audience and actor.  Which points out its unique dependence on audience.

Great thoughts Dan! As a new playwright this gives me hope that I won't be writing into a void.

Exagerate the essential. Leave the obvious vague. ---Vincent Van Gogh

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I can't help but mention Shakespeare here. What can be done to bring the Bard back to the masses (where he originally was)? A good performance of, say, Hamlet is an astounding experience, but also a rare one. It seems as though so many companies approach his work with a dreadful stoicism, as if they're afraid to handle the time-worn words lest they shatter under the pressure. There must be something done.

I love doing Shakespeare! I have a troupe of actors that I graduated SPU with and we wrote and educational Shakespere show, and one of the scenes we use is the Hamlet/Ophelia get the to a Nunery. Also a bit of the scene between Hamlet and his Father's Ghost. (I play the Ghost) It is great fun for us and the students we play for. We are always looking for opportunities to perform the Bard.

Exagerate the essential. Leave the obvious vague. ---Vincent Van Gogh

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Still in the Shakespeare vein... I went to see a play called Cardenio last week. My friend Dawn was in the show so she got me a comp ticket. Thank God! I would have been cursing at the waste of my $12.50. This play was awful! According to the director's notes Shakespeare is thought to have collaborated on this play with John Fletcher. I highly doubt it. I'm no Shakespearean scholar, but if he had anything to do with this play, he must have been drunk at the time. Cardenio reads like a spoof of Shakespeare. If they had played this script like a comedy, with tongue firmly in cheek it would have been ten times better. However, according to my friend Dawn the cast was specifically directed to play it straight. They were told that if the audience is laughing they're doing it wrong. This play could have been hilarious. Especially at those times when there are five dead bodies on stage, and the recently deposed King enters and says "Ho, what is here? All dead and no one to tell the tale?". But they're not quite dead yet. One of them wakes up and begin to tell the tale, when he reveals a secret, that one guys wife was not as faithful to him as he thought that guy wakes up and throws his dead wifes body off his own and begins to crawl across the stage so he may die as far away from her cheating flesh as he may. Then there's the necrophilia. The Tyrant who deposed the King to get the Kings mistress, digs up her dead body so that she may finally be his queen. Great stuff! But not when it is played straight. It just flopped around on the stage like a dying trout.

Exagerate the essential. Leave the obvious vague. ---Vincent Van Gogh

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Ah...get thee to a nunnery. One of my favorites. We put on Hamlet my last year of college and, while I'm surely biased, I thought it was a awfully good performance. It's one thing to be emotional and spiritually moved when seeing a play one time from the audience. It's another thing entirely to go through the same thing every night while waiting in the wings. I think it says a great deal about S's ability.

Now to find a good performance of Macbeth...

So you ladies and you gentlemen, pull your bloomers on...

-Joe Henry

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I think that theatre has become a largely snooty endeavor. And that people are as likely to see a show as they are to go to an art museum. Part of the blame goes to people of faith for abandonding the art form oh so long ago and leaving a durge of ammoral folks to take the helm and lead most of the theatre of the last twenty years toward homsexually or liberally agenda'd stuff.
I agree with you there (except for the use of 'liberal' as a pejorative). Did anyone see the Tonys this year? I think Tony's come out of the closet...

Oh didn't mean to "dog" liberalism. Conservative agenda'd theatre would've been just as bad. It's just happened to be liberal.

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  • 3 weeks later...

No deader than it's been for the last thirty or forty years. Film and television have economies of scale which allow for massively more pervasive marketing campaigns and lower ticket prices: these factors will keep live theatre from ever again having the sort of dominance it once had in the performing arts field.

On the other hand, a number of its inherent strengths mean it will never really die, never be replaced by film, television or any other "non-live" media. Bottom line: real, living, breathing bodies and souls living out a story in the same room. Gives an immediacy, an intimacy, a risk factor and a humanity that recorded media can never achieve. Also, the form itself necessitates a greater imaginative investment by the audience members, and this enhances the audience's emotional and intellectual engagement.

Ron

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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In our world it is becoming harder and harder to communicate with each other simply and honestly, on a gut level. Yet we still go to the theatre to have a communion with the truth of our existence, and, ideally, we leave it knowing that that kind of communication is still possible. The theatre can put forth simple human values in hopes that the audience may leave inspired to try to live by such values. Seeing an individual doing his best against impossible odds and without regard to his fears allows the audience to identify that very capacity within themselves. That iron will is the will of the actor bringing not some "magnificent performance" to the stage, but his own simple human values and the actions { he chooses}. When truth and virtue are so rare in almost every area of our society the world needs theatre and the theatre needs actors who will bring the truth of the human soul to the stage.

David Mamet

Introduction to A Practical Handbook For The Actor (Bruder et al)

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Ron, just to play devil's advocate...

What about the previous quote cannot also be said about cinema?

What is it about the specific experience of theatre that make is so vital?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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  • 1 month later...

Yeesh, Danny, didn't have you pegged as such a cynic about theatre. But I'm more inclined to listen to your objections knowing that they come from a stage actor.

Sure, theatre costs a bit more than film, but methinks a good play is so much more immediate and moving and inspiring than even the best film. Me also thinks there are far too many people who, out of sheer force of habit, will sit through three crappy movies instead of going to one good play. And one still has opportunities like rush, half-price booths, volunteer ushering, and pay-what-you-can benefit shows. Put the NPR station on speed dial for those ticket giveaways. And of course there are no trailers in the theatre world, but one can still do research to scope out the good shows: Read reviews. Read the play, if it's published. (I have a copy of Cardenio you could have borrowed.) Consider the particular theatre company's reputation, if it has one.

Another difference between film and theatre is that the balance between craft and art is different, theatre having a higher ratio of the latter to the former than film does. There are so many ways in a film for a little craft to cover deficiencies in the art, and the more you know about film, the more you begin to recognize them. Montages; cuts, fades, filters, angles and other camera tricks; voiceovers; music; foley work; digital and modeling effects; etc., etc. -- they're all cinema-specific crutches that theatre either can't use at all, or can't use in the same way or to the same extent. Star Wars Episodes IV, I, and II are perfect examples of films where the story depends much more heavily on craft than it does on art, and the ratio gets progressively slanted in favor of craft with each new film in the series that Lucas directs. Not to say that theatre doesn't rely on a fair amount of craft -- you still have sets, costumes, lighting, and sound design, but it's impossible for those elements to carry a play the way they can sometimes carry a film.

So, to address Jeff's question about Mamet's quote, the more a film relies on craft, the less able it is to "communicate ... simply and honestly, on a gut level." The simplest film I've ever seen is Robert Bresson's The Man Escaped. It's also one of the most powerful. But it still doesn't have the immediacy of a stage performance. The difference between theatre and film is the difference between an unmediated and a mediated experience, between communication and exhibition, between making a connection and making an impression.

I'll have to go dig out that Suzan-Lori Parks interview I was reading the other day. She quoted someone on theatre being about the "loss of the irretrievable." Well, for better or worse, film is retrievable, even if it shouldn't be. The Shawshank Redemption is never going to go away, but then, neither is Deuce Bigalow.

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There are so many ways in a film for a little craft to cover deficiencies in the art, and the more you know about film, the more you begin to recognize them. Montages; cuts, fades, filters, angles and other camera tricks; voiceovers; music; foley work; digital and modeling effects; etc., etc. -- they're all cinema-specific crutches that theatre either can't use at all, or can't use in the same way or to the same extent.
Hmm... I question the validity of this statement. Not only is it too dismissive to describe these techniques as "crutches," but the theatre has them as well. There are plenty of effects in direction, set design, make-up, costuming, lighting, and even acting (there's plenty of acting fireworks) that can mask poor content. Film is not worse about this, merely different, and perhaps grander.
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Not only is it too dismissive to describe these techniques as "crutches," but the theatre has them as well. There are plenty of effects in direction, set design, make-up, costuming, lighting, and even acting (there's plenty of acting fireworks) that can mask poor content.

Didn't I acknowledge this? Go back and read what I wrote.

Poor content is harder to mask onstage than it is on film. Bad acting is easier to spot onstage than it is on film. Theatre has a bag of tricks; film has a much bigger bag of more pervasive tricks. A stage director can't force you to look at a particular part of the stage at a given time. A film director chooses your perspective for you with camera angles. A play must have a through-line that is sustained by the actors in real time. A film's through-line (unless it's Rope) is artificial, cobbled together via storyboards and takes and editing consoles. I could go on, but if you haven't gotten the point already ...

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mrmando wrote:

: Poor content is harder to mask onstage than it is on film.

I think what DanBuck may be objecting to is the way that statements like this place all the emphasis on content, when in fact film is often more about form than content, so to say that a film has "tricks" that can "cover deficiencies" in its content is, perhaps, to not recognize what film is all about in the first place. It is, at any rate, to judge film through the eyes of theatre, when it might be more appropriate to judge it through the eyes of photography or music or something else (though of course, with music, you could make the same contrast between a live concert and a recording).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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You're both sort of right. I didn't read that last bit of your original post, mrmando, that tipped the hat to theatre tricks. But I still take issue with the fact that film's tricks are more pervasive or persuasive. And Peter, while I wasn't, in my post, talking about the fact that divorcing craft from content bothers me, it does, in fact. And I think in both mediums the two should be inexorably tied.

The TRUE strength of theatre, is merely that it is live. Stage has the element of a relationship between viewer and artist. No two performances are exactly the same as a result of the energy, responsiveness, gasps, silence, yawns, and other various elements added by an audience. And even the way an actor performs changes from night to night. Often extremely subtly, but different nonetheless. Jerzy Gratowski did a lot of experiemental theatre in Poland and in his book The Poor Theatre, he concluded that the only thing needed to make theatre is actor and audience. Film doesn't even need an audience.

Every show you go see live is different (for better or for worse) because you're there. That's why theatre is in fact, not dead, but very much alive.

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I think what DanBuck may be objecting to is the way that statements like this place all the emphasis on content, when in fact film is often more about form than content, so to say that a film has "tricks" that can "cover deficiencies" in its content is, perhaps, to not recognize what film is all about in the first place.

Well, personal preference must enter the equation somewhere. So put me down as one who has a preference for content, even in film -- although your point is well taken. A film that is more about form than content can still be entertaining. Some experimental theatre is form-heavy -- there's a Beckett piece that has no dialogue, just actors moving in prescribed ways around a quadrangle -- but not easy to sit through. I'm not sure I completely agree with Grotowski about actor and audience. There still has to be something for them to talk about. What good is it if the audience falls asleep? -- my wife has told me all about a couple of experimental pieces directed by Grotowski disciples that had precisely that effect, because the content was obscured by the form.

Essentially, though, I agree with DanBuck about theatre's live aspect being its most important asset. And it is precisely the live aspect that limits the size of theatre's bag of tricks -- and whoa, I'm right back where I started.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

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  • 3 months later...

The film came first, so one wonders why the deliberate change to obscure the gender of the Beast's destined love (not to mention butcher the English language)?

Anything I could come up with would probably be construed as unfair stereotyping of performers in Broadway musicals at best, and gay-bashing at worst (to say nothing of inadequate education standards, the breakdown of grammar, the corrosion of orthography and the virtual nonexistence of ortholalia [is that a word? It is now].) So I will say nothing.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

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My favourite analogy here in the comparison of theatre and film is the one of music. Hearing a good CD and seeing a good concert are 2 completely different experiences. Even when it's the same performers. you're seeing. Now, I've always loved the music of U2; cranking the radio whenever their songs come on or listening to their CD's for inspiration. But when I saw them in concert 3 years ago, my soul was thrilled beyond expectation! It still stands out as oneof the greatest spiritual experiences of my life. The energy of the crowd, the honesty of the performance and the sublimity of the spectacle simply overwhelmed me. I was glad to have my ears ringing for days afterwards.

The ironic thing was that the music was less polished, less perfect than any of the studio tracks. And I remember reading in a book (The Unforgettabe Fire) that the guitars were all tuned half a step down for live performance to accomodate Bono's voice.

The point being that whereas a film can be fine tuned to a clean polished perfection in the eyes of the director, a play can only be as good as the actors are able to bring to the stage on that particular night. But seeing a story brought to life by a person who's fully alive there in the room with you can be the most thrilling experience. And somehow it's more human, more personal.

After all, how many people can sing along with Bono's high notes on the CD? But a half step down, this becomes much more possible.

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  • 7 months later...
Where, they wonder, are the young adults? Are they not as interested in theater as they once were? Or is it that they can't afford the tickets? And behind those questions are larger and more ominous ones: Is theater failing to attract a new generation of enthusiasts to replace those who, on the opposite end of the chronological scale, die off or become too frail to go out at night? And what does "the graying of the audience," as people call it, mean for the future of the art form?

Money's got a lot to do with it. Teachout in Weekend Journal a month ago blurbed an out of town tryout in Chicago of a stage version of Monte Python's Holy Grail starring David Hyde-Pierce among others. It is in December and early January. I jumped on it as the only thing I wanted for Christmas. Until I saw that the cheapest tix were $215 a piece. Opens on Broadway in March. Won't be that expensive there, but I can't afford Broadway either and it's a longer drive.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

"During the contest trial, the Coleman team presented evidence of a further 6500 absentees that it felt deserved to be included under the process that had produced the prior 933 [submitted by Franken, rk]. The three judges finally defined what constituted a 'legal' absentee ballot. Countable ballots, for instance, had to contain the signature of the voter, complete registration information, and proper witness credentials.

But the panel only applied the standards going forward, severely reducing the universe of additional basentees the Coleman team could hope to have included. In the end, the three judges allowed about 350 additional absentees to be counted. The panel also did nothing about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of absentees that have already been legally included, yet are now 'illegal' according to the panel's own ex-post definition."

The Wall Street Journal editorial, April 18, 2009 concerning the Franken Coleman decision in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race of 2008.

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