In tough times the arts are often cast aside as a luxury. “We have more important things happening!” people exclaim. But artistic forms have always helped us shape societies and, perhaps even more importantly, understand them. With very real, tough issues dominating the news, theatre may offer some ways to help us process – here are a few reasons why.
It is universal.
Forms of theatre can be found in virtually every society around the world dating back as far as the 6th century BCE. It seems almost as if it is one of the most fundamental tools we have to explore what it means to be human, whether in its pure form or combined with other artistic expressions. In times of division, at least being united by a common experience is a start.
It can cultivate empathy.
It’s one thing to read facts in the news, it’s another to bear witness to a person’s life as depicted right in front of you with all the intimate details. Most all of us have had a moment where we feel, in a true way, pity or fear for a character, which may help us extend that empathy to others once we leave. Whether the characters in a play are fictitious or based on a true story, the practice of extending care to others is always needed.
We can examine two sides of an argument.
Plays can often explore contradictions and positions effectively by having characters lay out their perspectives and make passionate pleas. A great example can be found in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson (1990) where two siblings debate selling a treasured heirloom instilled with a painful family history. While on the surface it could appear like a squabble amongst siblings, the deeper discussion is really how to confront one’s own legacy and self-worth, interpreted very differently by two people with a shared past.
It can be raw.
Inundated with the digital, highly edited, and perfectly coiffed, theatre is one of the last places to experience entertainment where you can feed off the very energy of the performers. Like music, each time a production is staged it changes as the actor embodies characteristics, adapts to an audience, incorporates notes, or simply unearths a new dimension to the material. There is something special and really organic that you simply can’t replicate with film.
You can experience intense emotion in a room of strangers.
The ache, joy, or pity theatre can coax out of us isn’t experienced in a vacuum or at home on the couch. When you see a production it is a shared experience, and the audience can even influence one another’s reaction. When the curtain is drawn and final bows taken, you head back to reality with a crowd and can feel everyone adjusting collectively. This presents ample opportunity for discussion, analysis, or a shared libation to ease the tension or extend the laughs.
While it’s tempting to tune out, in times of social trauma theatre can be a valuable tool and comfort for many and we hope people will come out in larger numbers as we continually confront the realities of our times.[/az_column_text]