The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

Why Theatre? March 16, 2009

Filed under: Business of Arts,Life,World Theatre Day — Rebecca Coleman @ 6:30 am

Last week, I did an interview with David Diamond for the World Theatre Day Blog. One of the questions I asked him was: why theatre? Here is his response:

It’s about our ability to be transformed through the theatre. Communities, like people, have the need to storytell. To collectively process fears, desires, anger, sadness…. when communities lose the ability to do this, they get sick – just like people do. It is pretty basic that we need to express our emotions to be healthy. Theatre is the language through which this can happen.

Humans think, not in sentences, but in metaphors. That’s what makes art powerful–it is expressed in metaphors. What makes good theatre is the transformational power of the work. You can have a play that has the highest production values possible, but how can it be good theatre if it has no transformational ability – if the audience isn’t challenged – pushed into disequilibrium in some small or large way? Conversely, a show in a black box with no costumes or set may very well be good theatre if you walk away from it having changed in some way.

It started me thinking… of all the careers I could have chosen, and probably been successful at, I chose theatre. Why?

The reasons are very clear to me, but it’s been a while since I expressed them. So, here goes…

1. It just fits. In Tennesee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick talks about waiting for the ‘click’ in his head while he’s drinking. After the click, he goes to his ‘happy place’, if you will, where he is not bothered by the storms around him.

For me, Theatre is my ‘happy place’. I feel more at home, more alive, and more kinship when I am at the theatre than anywhere else. I remember so clearly my first experience on stage in front of an audience. I was 18, and playing a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a college production. I was so terrified, I was practically throwing up back stage, but I went on, and when we went out for the curtain call, standing there on stage with all those other wonderful theatre artists, I just knew I was home.

2. Theatre is the greatest of all the arts. Okay–I know some of you might argue with me, here, but for me, theatre combines so many of the arts–music, visual, writing, I think it’s the king. And I continue to go to the theatre seeking out jaw-dropping, heart-stopping moments of perfect theatrical creativity and brilliance. I don’t find them often, but I crave them, and continue to seek them out.

3. The people. “There’s no people like show people.” It’s true. I count myself lucky to have found a community that accepts and includes me. Some people search for that all thier lives, and I have found it in my fellow theatre artists.

4. Flow. “Flow” is a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. According to him, Flow is characterized by a “mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”  The only moments in my life where I feel I have truly experienced flow have been on stage, or in class. I called them “orgasmic theatre moments,” and each one is still perfectly clear in my head.

But enough about me. How about you? Why are you a theatre artist? I want to know!

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4 Responses to “Why Theatre?”

  1. I think Theatre chose me when I was able to sing along to ‘Happiness’ from ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ at five years old. Hee. I also have a distinct memory of seeing the dancers at the stage door after a production of ‘The Nutcracker’ and thinking, ‘that’s the door I want to go through, not the front door….’

    The theatre is the only place I’ve ever felt truly comfortable. A place of belonging, a place where my daily terror at life goes away. In high school I was able to stand on stage with ease when I couldn’t stand in front of a class and give a presentation. I was able to express myself perfectly in a play where I’ve never been able to in a conversation. It’s easy for me to see why and how I love theatre. It’s my method of expression.

    I think it’s because I know theatre is ‘my place’ that the frustrations of trying to make a living, of dealing with those who abuse and misuse the theatre, of dealing with those who see theatre as useless, are all, well, frustrating! To that end it can make theatre hard to love at times.

    Having said that, now that I write for and work with youth, and having seen the power of theatre in action, I have this fierce devotion to theatre. It’s going to be part of my life forever and I’m so thankful.

  2. Rebecca, as you know, I’m not a theater artist.

    But re: flow, even after many years of internal struggling as a visual artist, I never really felt in flow, and ultimately abandoned the practice. I’m so grateful to have found that writing is what does it for me.

    When I’m writing, even my typical arts marketing writing, I get that “click,” and everything else disappears.

  3. thenextstage Says:

    Wow, big question. I could start a blog on this…

    But if I had to distill my attraction to theatre down to its base essence, it would have something to do with community, as Mr. Diamond so eloquently states. Telling and hearing our stories together in a room is a sanctified right and an experience that can only strengthen a society. Sharing a dialogue and energy together can repair the cracks in a fracturing community by bringing us face to face with the truth of the thing inside of us, it’s shockingly powerful when done well.

    It’s actually an enormous responsibility that I hope to be worthy of living up to. I’m terrified of theatre made for the artist and not the community.

  4. Aaron Says:

    Well, I’m a little late to the party, but I like the subject so I’m going to respond anyhow.

    Speaking as someone who came very close to giving up the whole theatre thing in the sem-recent past, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was designed for theatre.

    I don’t know why, I don’t know yet for what purpose, or by whom… but all I know is that I’ve been blessed by certain creative gifts, and they belong to the stage. So, I’m sticking it out until I find my place.

    The overall quality of my theatrical design, however, is still very much up for debate…


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