Another Theatre, Another Show

Imagine if you will, millenniums ago, some simian-like human garnering his associates attention, showing him how the stick in hand was used to overcome a fierce opponent. In that single inspired moment, traditions were born – and several great trades as well: playwright, actor, producer and huckster. These have all grown together hand-in-hand, and with each new moment, opportunity was and is seized to make a bigger show, a better production, a stronger
message. Go back to the same scene, and imagine if this inciter of communication thought, “Hmmm, what if I do this with a full moon and a big fire as background, will that make this a better story?”

Now consider what followed in virtually every recorded moment in history. Rituals were built to inspire awe, impose dread, incite loyalty, encourage faith… the list is as long as humanities emotional range. A dramatic presentation of some experience, converted into spectacle on some contrived platform.  This is the foundation of virtually all recognized history. It is in the telling that these moments become significant. History leaves an indelible mark upon all that witness it in its unending retellings.  We rely on these retellings. We institutionalize them and call it religion; we change names and places and call it drama.  In the end, it is the same thing – the telling of an experience in a focused and controlled fashion to elicit a specific response. It’s not hard to see why at various times the very notion of theatre was revered and at other times reviled.  There is a lot of power here.

So we move through time, and come to modern life, twenty-first century earth. We are now surrounded by, and immersed in countless expressions of theatre. We have the never-ending religions, not just cathedrals and holy sites for pilgrims to visit, but mega-churches using multimedia presentation to appeal to the tens of thousands at each setting. If you watch National Geographic, or other such presentations, you will see that even in the most remote areas of the planet, rituals are presented for both sacred and secular audience. We have television broadcast throughout the world that provides us with hundreds of different choices every minute of every hour, and lest you want to argue the point, even the reality-based material is theatrical in presentation. There are more films being shot, released and then distributed directly then has even happened before.  And we have Theatre.

We have big budget theatre – Broadway, West End productions, tens of millions of dollars serving up material that is well studied to provide the most bangs without offending anyone. Is there a significant difference between say, the passion plays at The Crystal Cathedral and The Lion King? It’s all allegorical, and cries to the tradition of passing along a message. There is the unending tours and revivals of well-known pearls, and there is the ubiquitous new interpretation of Shakespeare’s 38+ plays performed by famous, infamous and those that would like to be either. There are thousands of spaces throughout the world where people gather, the playwright, the actor, the producer and the huckster, and they all contrive to offer you, the
audience, something you haven’t seen before — brilliant exploring theatrical adventures. That’s the hope, that’s the dream. The dream of being the new voice that will allow us the audience to see what alone we are unable to see, insights and truths so obvious and evident to the presenters, yet so allusive to the world.

With every new arrival to the world of theatre, there is a new dream born, a new teacher, a new preacher and new seekers. Should this be what inspires us to seek out these neophytes? Well, the answer is yes, we should always have our eyes and ears open to new voices and new opportunity. For each new story, each new telling is an expansion of the human experience. It is the brave artist that tread out on untested journeys that prompt us look at ourselves and imagine what it was like to listen to that first story of the stick.

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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