Theater vs. Theatre: a comparison/contrast for enquiring minds who want to know

The debate continues in my household. My son, Grant the Thespian, tells me that “theatre” refers to anything to do with the art of stagecraft, and a “theater” is the building in which stagecraft takes place.

Being an avid researcher, and anal-retentive writer, I decided to explore this topic prior to creating Speakeysie so that when writing articles about stagecraft, the term is used with the correct spelling for the correct circumstance.

For those of my 7th grade ELA students who want to see how to write a fun-filled informational piece and cite textual evidence without plagiarizing, here’s your example and summer homework. 

So here it is folks–the official (unofficial) verdict of when to use theatER and theatRE based on hours of painstaking research on Google. And the verdict is…….it’s really as clear as Georgia red clay.

The simplest answer found was, THEATRE is the English spelling of the word, whereas THEATER is the American spelling. Then there are all the howevers….

Writing Explained purports to tell us they know the correct way to use the two spellings. Here it states Theater and Theatre are both “a building, room, or outdoor structure for the presentation of plays, films, or other dramatic performances.” Theatre should be used if you are British or writing to a British audience. Theater should be used if you are American, or writing to an American audience. They go on to confirm that some believe what was told to me by Grant, but then say, “Unless theatre is used in the proper name of a building, production company, etc., theater is the correct spelling in American English. Some examples of theatre in proper names, the American Ballet Theatre, the Muncie Civic Theatre, etc.” Which is the opposite of my household Thespian authority.

Writing Explained also mentions the distinction that a TheatRE is where live performances take place and a theatER is where films are shown. So then what would we call the Fabulous Fox in Atlanta that dabbles in both? How about Lips Down on Dixie, that performs live simultaneously with a film?  

Grammarist, like writing explained, tells us there is not any difference in meaning between theater and theatre. They do give us a brief history about the use of theatER as being in use since the late 20th century and how old snobs resist that use as how dare modernists try to change things.

Both websites appeal to the data geek in this old math teacher by providing statistics, and the data points to using theatER when writing except when referring to a specific theatER company who uses theatRE in their title.

As a result, Speakeysie has chosen to be American, modern, and unpretentious using the term theatER when writing about the artform in general, and thearRE when referring to those entities who use that spelling in their titles. Plus our readership is 97.5% American and 0.3% British, so America wins (again)!

To be perfectly honest, since we’ve evolved and changed our full title from Speakeysie: North Georgia theater review and promotion to Speakeysie: entertainment review and promotion, we couldn’t care in the least which term is used. You say tomAto, we say toMAHto. To each (insert gender identity pronoun here) own!

–Jody Key – Managing Editor – speakeysie@gmail.com – 470-330-1499

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