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Live theater has always been an integral, almost instinctive part of the human experience. Unfortunately, the rising cost of tickets, bad seats, crowds, traffic, and the endless atrocities committed by negligible theater "artists" from Andrew Lloyd Webber to the Northwest Actor's Studio have all conspired to keep even the most devoted theater buffs at home. And who can blame them?

But theater-hungry masses need to go no further than their own living room window to experience the passion and power of live theater. Housing shortages, new technology, and ridiculously lax privacy laws have provided a cheap and exciting alternative to traditional theater. Visceral, raw, uncensored, and spontaneous human drama can be enjoyed by simply taking a discreet peek from behind a curtain or pressing an ear against a wall. Illegal, immoral, and ultimately more satisfying than the best off-Broadway season, eavesdropping is not only a great alternative to live theater, but often far superior!

Like conventional theater, optimum times to catch a good show are on Friday and Saturday evenings. When work-stressed nerves begin to unwind and alcohol begins to flow, the resourceful audience member is almost guaranteed a good show. If you're lucky enough to have windows facing an apartment complex (as I do) you may even find yourself with more than one show to chose from!

First, get close to the action with the aid of your handy MPN 60K-7007 night-vision image-magnification system ($3,000 at the Spy-PI Connection, 1811 Eastlake Avenue -- a must for any home theater aficionado). For drama-hungry peepers, the trick lies in creating a complete, multi-sensory theater experience. Let's say you're lucky enough to catch your neighbor drunkenly beating his kids (very Eugene O'Neill!). In most cases you will only hear the occasional drunken expletive; most other dialogue will be lost. But carefully chosen soundtracks, such as Chariots of Fire or the 1812 Overture, can ensure a surreal performance art experience worthy of the best experimental theater!

Conversely, if your theater experience is mainly audile -- i.e., listening to your neighbors fuck through a wall with a stethoscope ($60 at American HomePatient, 13035 Gateway Drive) -- you can supplement the missing visual aspect with a 50-watt bulb and your own two hands. Surprisingly versatile, shadow puppets are a long-standing theatrical tradition that can add a whole new dimension to your home theater experience! Embracing lovers, screaming housewives, birds, giraffes, humping bunnies -- let your imagination soar!

Of course, giving the performance a title is necessary to complete the experience. One of the most memorable shows I ever saw was the aptly titled Hippie Couple Grooming for Crab Lice: A Love Story. I alternated playing the Yentl soundtrack with Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," and eventually found the whole scene touching and strangely arousing.

You'll want to create as authentic a theater experience as possible. Dress up, set up a concession stand by your front door, call a cab and have it circle the block once or twice -- treat yourself! I always like to brew some bad coffee and open a fresh can of paint -- -a commingling of aromas that always evokes the ambiance of regional theater. Remember: you are no longer in your drab, overpriced studio apartment, you are at the Majestic, the Palace, the Imperial, at a command performance for one!

Happy peeping!