Why do we feel compelled to go to the theatre? And why are there a collection of people who decide to devote their lives to becoming theatre makers? It is certainly not about money; it is expensive to go, expensive to produce and very difficult to make huge profits on. So, what it is it about theatre that keeps us hooked?
For some, and perhaps increasingly so in our current climate, theatre is a form of escapism. We go to the theatre to watch musicals and comedy when we want to relax, laugh and escape from the pressures of everyday life. I remember watching Crazy for You the night that the riots kicked off in London in August and being blissfully unaware of the unrest that lay beyond the happy song-and-dance bubble that I was trapped in. To quote The Stage’s Mark Shenton, it was like “being transported to an alternative universe”.
Nonetheless, for those of you out there like me who are obsessed with theatre, it is about much more than escaping reality. There is something about it that is deeply and intricately fascinating, perhaps even almost spiritual. It can move us and motivate us in a way that directly affects our everyday lives. It stirs us, provokes questions and makes us think. We feel that we are part of the experience itself.
As audience members we are what completes a show, we give life to a production by watching it. Theatre demands concentration and then reaction, and it is this reaction that unites performer and spectator. Thus, when a performance provokes intense emotions in us, we feel that is has truly affected how we see the world because we have been so intimately connected to it. In the words of Artaud, “…each show becomes a sort of event. The audience must feel a scene in their lives is being acted out in front of them, a truly vital scene… we ask our audiences to join with us, inwardly, deeply…”
Theatre is also a platform for expression and we go to witness and respond to events that we could never ordinarily witness. Unfortunately I missed The Riots at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn (hopefully I’ll get to see it in Tottenham at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in January) but a verbatim piece based on the events in London last summer really appeals to me because it allows me to watch these events and react to them. In this context, theatre can be an emotional experience which has the power to raise questions in us that alter our perceptions of our current society.
Theatre carries great weight when it comes face to face with current affairs and it can also be used as a tool to respond. Michael Billington says it perfectly in his response to Mike Bartlett’s 13, currently playing at The National, that “theatre becomes a larger place once it confronts the state of society”. We are lucky enough to have the creative freedom to make theatre controversial and thought-provoking, a place to confront our government and, in the case of 13, “articulate the crisis in British Society”.
I am also attracted to theatre because it is live. Unlike a film which will always be the same if you play it over and over, theatre is a unique experience which every audience member participates in only once and there is something really exciting and attractive about that. Obviously you can go to see a production again if it is playing for any extended period of time; however, the actual experience of this group of people, in this building, watching this production, will never happen ever again.
First and foremost I go to the theatre because I feel connected to it when I’m watching it. It helps me to digest the world that we live in, and it fascinates me that I am a little piece of the whole theatre experience. I may just be one person but I hope that my reaction, together with the reactions of the rest of the audience, can affect how we collectively view our world today.
Image by Tom Spaulding.