Open Forum

Theater vs. Theatre

  • 1.  Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-28-2018 11:53
    Just to stir up some trouble:

    I know the difference - theatre is what is created inside the building called a theater. My American sensibilities find the use of theatre to be pretentious, as if spelling it the English way makes it fancier or more refined.  I have resisted using "theatre" and tell my kids (only half in jest) that we don't do fancy "theatre" we do real "theater" (and yeah, maybe I'm the one being pretentious).

    Does anyone else share my pain, or am I fighting a losing battle here?

    Ken Buswell
    Drama Teacher
    Peachtree City, GA

    Theater kills ignorance

  • 2.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-28-2018 13:55
    It says "Theatre" on my diploma, so that's what I go by ;-) I just tell my students that it's "re" for the art and "er" for the building.

    Christopher Hamilton
    Drama Teacher
    Kennewick WA

  • 3.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-28-2018 18:03
    Coming from a place where the arts don't get a lot of respect, I have purposefully used "re" instead of "er".  Something about "theatre" seems to lend a bit more prestige.  While I couldn't say for sure, I think its had the effect I want, which is for students and community to view our program with more respect.

    However, I do agree that there is some perceived pretentiousness that comes from the use of "theatre".  So strange that the arrangement of two letters can make such a difference!

    Derek Friederich
    Thespian Troupe 417/Speech Coach/Jr. High Drama/Fine Arts Center Technical Director
    Postville IA

  • 4.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-29-2018 10:15
    We are not the only ones with this sort of struggle ...  as a few colleagues constantly remind other teachers and students:

    Gym= the building

    Wellness or Physical Education = the subject.

    Same concept!

    Kristin Hall
    Drama Director
    Lincoln Public Schools
    Arlington MA

  • 5.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-29-2018 07:55
    Being an Aussie I may be a little biased, but it is always THEATRE! (evil grin).

    A theater is the place you go to see a movie:
    A theatre is were you go to watch live theatre.
    Theatre is what we do on stage in a theatre.

    Where's the confusion!

    Sorry couldn't resist!

    Rod Reilly
    Owner, Bodymics
    Somerset NJ

  • 6.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-29-2018 08:55
    I pondered this issue a half-dozen years ago, and even offered a compromise solution.

    Howard Sherman
    Arts Integrity Initiative
    New York NY

  • 7.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-30-2018 10:33
    Howard Sherman -- great essay! (Though I am partial to "teatro" myself, pronounced as buoyantly Italian as possible.)

    Anita Martin
    Managing Editor of Publications
    Educational Theatre Association
    Cincinnati, OH

  • 8.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-29-2018 09:01
    Most of the "-re" words that British English borrowed from French have been Americanized as "-er" words: "centre"/"center," "metre"/"meter," "litre"/"liter," etc.  For simple consistency's sake, it seems that "theatre" should follow suit as "theater."  On the other hand, we don't say that Shrek is an "oger" ...

    Still, in America we write "jail" rather than "gaol," and "pajamas" instead of "pyjamas," so the retention of "theatre" can indeed seem a little pretentious - rather like a stereotypically lock-jawed high-society grande dame whose pronunciation hews toward the British because she thinks it makes her sound classy.

    The Associated Press Stylebook, pretty much the Bible of usage for journalists, has an entry specifying the use of the spelling "theater."

    Here in Florida, however, the state's course code directory for public schools lists my courses as Theatre 1, Theatre 2, etc., so in school I generally adopt that spelling in order to avoid confusion among my students.  Even so, they often ask me if the word is spelled "-re" or "-er."  I usually tell them that it doesn't matter, but that it will probably help if any given piece of writing uses one spelling of the word consistently, instead of alternating between the two.

    Hey, the Brits still drive on the wrong side of the road, and let's not even get into their spelling and pronunciation of the thirteenth element on the periodic table!  ;-)

    Jeff Grove
    Theatre Teacher, Aesthetics Department Chair
    Stanton College Preparatory School
    Jacksonville FL

  • 9.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-29-2018 09:12
    I tell my students we use the re ending specifically because it is pretentious. So there's that.

  • 10.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-29-2018 10:22
    I use the "re" in all circumstances, even for the building. (Of course, I went through that anglophile period as a teenager.) I find it's an easy way to find the real theatre people in a crowd. (or maybe, I'm just that pretentious.) :-)


    Robert Smith
    VA Co-Chapter Director
    Centreville VA

  • 11.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-29-2018 16:59
    For me, theatre denotes live performances on a stage - theater is what most people think where movies are shown.

    Wayne Kischer

  • 12.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-30-2018 08:40
    What a fun and interesting discussion! At EdTA, theater is a building and always a building. Theatre is the art produced in that building as a play.

    David LaFleche
    Director of Membership
    Educational Theatre Association
    Cincinnati OH

  • 13.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-30-2018 12:59

    It's a matter of grammar.  Theatre can change it's vowel ending to become other words for example:   theatrical,  theatron, theatrics.  Where as theater can only be used in that form.  Therefore the study of Dramatics  is Theatre because it encompasses all the elements of theatre and the vocabulary associated with it  and theater only destines a place.  


    Kelly M. Thomas

    Department of Theatre

    Dr. Ralph H. Poteet High School

    3300 Poteet Drive

    Mesquite, Texas 75150




  • 14.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 11-30-2018 12:00
      |   view attached
    Oh, dear, yes, you will stir up trouble with this one. Beauty is in the eye of . . . etc. Anyway, the OED agrees that "theatre" is the British spelling and that "theater" is the American preference, although "theatre" is also acceptable in American English. Here's part of a quote from Grammarphobia :

    There's been a lot of nonsense written about "theater" and "theatre"-that one is for movies and the other is for plays; or that one refers to a building and the other to an art form; or that one spelling is lowbrow while the other is refined.

    But these are merely variant spellings of the same noun.

    The full quote is attached.

    So, take your pick if you are writing for American readers.  The Revolutionary War goes on in our language. As an American, I use "theater" except for the spelling of names of theaters that have "theatre" in their names. But, as a playwright, I automatically default to British spelling when writing plays with an English setting. "Color" becomes "colour," etc.  The real problem that I have as a writer is to figure out who my audience is!

    Jean Klein
    [Playwright/Founder HaveScripts/BlueMoonPlays]
    Virginia Beach VA


    From Grammarphobia.docx   14K 1 version

  • 15.  RE: Theater vs. Theatre

    Posted 12-03-2018 11:52
    I appreciate all the well-reasoned and intelligent responses. In my defense, I have just one word: Merica!

    Ken Buswell
    Drama Teacher
    Peachtree City, GA

    Theater kills ignorance