Sometimes I feel as if I’m shouting into gale force winds. The louder I scream the less is heard. What am I talking about? Communication. Community. Communion. The three great C’s of Theatre. How do we inspire the activation and commitment of the entire community to best take advantage of what could be called the noblest art.
By its very nature, Theatre is the model of community. A profound collaboration of a number of artists from different disciplines focused on a singular purpose. Each member has their own sense of purpose and vision, but all work cohesively to achieve the goal. Theatre is a communion with the audience, a shared moment of some insight in a soulfully intimate fashion.
Just as each artist has a role to play in the creation of theatre, so too does the audience have a part to play. Let’s face it, without the audience, it really doesn’t matter what happens on stage. And just as the actor, or the director or designer, or any one of dozens of artists who perform their roles over and over, each day with as much commitment as can be mustered, so too the audience must bear the responsibility of its role.
Theatre is not a movie, it is not television. It is an interaction between performers and audience. Passivity is akin to taking a shower with a raincoat – you may get wet, but you won’t get clean. Theatre means that as a member of the audience you buy into whatever the scenario is being sold. We all know it’s a stage, but is it a battlefield, is it a mansion, is it a junkyard? Only you know. The creators have done what they can to evoke a response, but you are the one ultimately responsible for being there.
And it doesn’t stop there. Because, by its nature theatre is community centric, it speaks to some value system. It’s only in the sharing of that information that it has life. There is a long string of idea transference. A director interprets the words of a playwright, and shapes that vision, which is communicated to all those that participate. And only if everyone has done their job, and all the stars are aligned, does the message come through to the audience, if they’re receptors are open.
Yet even if successful, we the audience must take on the message, and devise its value to us. Does it affect how we see the world, does it inspire us to change who we are, and is it entertaining? These are not conscious questions, they are implied in the conversations we have after the show.
And yes absolutely, we should have conversations. We should communicate with others that have seen the show, and we should talk to those who haven’t. That is what I mean when I say Theatre is not film or TV. When the show is over, we don’t just sit through the commercial and see what’s on next. We absorb the experience and maintain the bond of the art by further exploring what it means to us.
Those that make theatre, struggle on a daily basis to find the means to express themselves to the audience. There is a great depth to the emotional investment made by all of the participants. They do it because they believe they can make a difference. The least we can do is pose that question to ourselves … did the performance make a difference?
In a day and age when it would seem the most important relationship many of us have is with the mobile device that connects us to the world, it’s good to be reminded that there are many around us, and that our singular perception is not a universal truth.
Theatre is absolutely about entertainment, but with just as much emphasis it’s about us, how we see ourselves in the giant cosmos where we live. Theatre is about retaining our humanity, our community, and a reasonable perspective on life. Ponder that just for a moment when you leave Theatre. Then give someone a call and share the experience. It will change you life.