Frequently Asked Questions

What is museum theatre? 

Museum theatre involves engaging visitors in the willing suspension of disbelief– in pretend, or imagination– to enhance the educational experience that happens within a museum. It ranges from storytelling and living-history interpretation, to musical and dramatic presentations, to creative dramatics, puppetry, mime and much more. There are many ways to use museum theatre, and a variety of techniques and approaches to choose from (see Definitions), depending on the particular educational goals and needs of the institution.

First used by only a few pioneering institutions, theatre in museums has grown into a full-fledged movement. Innovative museum professionals around the world have turned to theatre as a successful medium for educating visitors, and evaluation studies have confirmed its effectiveness.

What is the difference between museum theatre and live interpretation?
You say potato, I say potato… Some call a performance by an actor in an art gallery “museum theatre," but a conversation with a costumed role player in a historic house “live interpretation.” In fact, both are theatre as they utilize the theatrical devices of character and story. Both are also interpretations, whether of art, history or another field. The difference between the two often lies in the perception of the practitioner. People from a theatre background tend to call what they do “theatre,” while those from other backgrounds tend to call themselves “interpreters.” Regardless, the goals are the same: to communicate facts, concepts, and a sense of time and place as memorably as possible.

IMTAL counts both “actors” and “interpreters” amongst its membership.

Is museum theatre the same as "living history"?
Living history is simply a kind of museum theatre. It usually refers to recreated historical environments, the recreated activities performed within those environments and/or the costumed persons who perform there. It includes first or third-person interpretation, scripted shows or scenes, and historic re-enactments. Living history generally involves costumed staff taking on the roles or actions of people in the past.

Is living history the same as re-enactment?

Historical re-enactments are a kind of living history. They are carefully staged, costumed events which re-enact important moments in history– often battles– usually performed by hobbyists. The emphasis tends to be on visual impact at a distance rather than one-to-one dialogue between interpreter and audience.

IMTAL members include many museums and sites that use re-enactment as well as museum theatre and live interpretation.

© 2023  IMTAL    |
    Webmaster Contact

International Museum Theatre Alliance (IMTAL)
c/o New England Museum Association
22 Mill Street, Ste 409       Arlington, MA 02476