Little Theatres, Big Effects: How Theatre Changed My Life (and what it can do for you)

By Hannah Logan

Hannah LoganThe first live theatre I ever saw was a production of Princess and the Pea. As soon as the lights went down I was transfixed…the story, the costumes, the handsome prince and of course the GIANT MATTRESS held me in awe. This was not at all like the 6-8 hours a day of television I watched. This thing called “theatre” breathed, was alive with real humanity and it was happening in front of me, only yards away, with people I could actually MEET afterwards.

The happy ending of that production left me glowing, happier than any episode of The Incredible Hulk, to which I was utterly devoted. I fell in love with theatre and I felt it generously returned my sentiment. I was also thrilled because I thought only fancy, rich people could go to theatre, and my family was neither fancy, nor rich. I also secretly thought that I could absolutely play a princess and wondered what I had to do to get that gig. (Some twenty years later I sat high a top what appeared to be a pile of mattresses on a small stage in a 99-seat theatre in Boston as I played the princess in Princess and the Pea.)

I was a relatively troubled child, and this new “thing” called theatre drew me to itself, comforted me and gave me hope for my future. It saved me from my pain and made the air around me sweet again.

Perhaps you, can not remember the first time you sat in a darkened theatre and waited for someone to speak, to maybe tell your story, move you, tickle your funny bone or lift you from some looming despair. But if you go to theatre, it is likely you have had such an experience at least once. (If you are a live theatre virgin, welcome.)

Or perhaps you have seen a Broadway musical. That’s theatre, right? Yes, of coarse it its…and yet not. It is not the experience to which I am referring, the intimate thing that happens in thousands of smaller theatres across the country everyday.

Anyone who has seen both a Broadway spectacle-style show and an earnest performance given by passionate artists in a 99-seat theatre can tell you the difference. You may have cried at Les Miserables, like I did, but wouldn’t it have been amazing to see Jean Valjean’s face as something other than a small bobbing ball of blurry color a hundred rows in front of you?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s ALL “theatre,” but the EXPERIENCE is decidedly different.

There is no substitute for seeing an actor’s face, to really be able to watch the story unfold…up-close and personal.

I was initially a little disappointed When, Trailerville, a play I wrote, was going to be produced by a local theatre company. When I was shown the very small theatre in which it was to be staged my vision was dimmed by the space. But, as a fledgling playwright, I knew I was very lucky to have something I wrote produced by someone other than myself, and so, simply, I said, “Great!” when shown the venue.

And ya know what? IT WAS MAGICAL. It is arguably a “raw” play, exploring an ensemble of characters who are trapped and trying to escape, one way or another. The intimacy of the space gave the audience a visceral experience of the characters’ experiences. More than once an audience member came up to me after the show and said, “This space was just perfect for the show. I felt like I was ‘right there,’ watching everything happen. ”

Theatre has, and continues to, speak to me and through me. And the experiences I have and continue to have in intimate, smaller space theatre, though perhaps a whisper compared to the theatrical events that come through town declaring “direct from Broadway,” are among the most profound experiences of my life, on the stage or in the audience. Further, without theatre I don’t know who I would be and might very well still be watching 6-8 hours of television everyday.

If you support live, intimate theatre, then, undoubtedly, you are nodding your head, perhaps even giving a little elbow to the theatre virgin friend you brought to the show who has said he “doesn’t like” theatre.

When the lights go down, hopefully, if the thespians have done their job, you and your friend will be moved, lifted up, enlightened, somehow affected…and as a result, however subtlety, changed.

Inevitably, that change will tell you to continue to support quality intimate theatre.  When it does…Listen.

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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