Theatre is a way out of loneliness
It’s 2008 and we stand at the edge of a worldwide recession and everyone is scared to death.
It’s hard not to see that the end of civilization is just around the corner. Common wisdom would have us believe that when times are tough the arts are the first thing taken out back and shot behind the woodshed, with theatre first in line. The thinking goes that it’s better to sit in a padded cell going slowly insane than buy a ticket to a play, exhibition, or performance that you can ill afford. It’s a thinking that goes onto say that even if you managed to make out the front door the only pleasure you’ll seek is the most superficial, distracting, and escapist form of fluff imaginable. Which begs the question, How does one gauge what is food for the soul when it might be your only meal of the day?
There’s no question that escapist entertainment can offer fleeting and sometimes necessary reward. After all, who hasn’t dreamt of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but in the long run, during times of great uncertainty and great turmoil, only art truly nourishes. Film, music, painting, and dance all have a place in keeping us emotionally healthy, but it’s theatre, even in its most rudimentary form that is as intrinsic to being human as breathing. Reduced to its core, theatre is the sound of the human voice telling a story, which is fortunate because as children, the sound of a human voice telling story was how most of us were introduced to the outside world. This is why when an audience comes together to watch a play there’s something magical that takes place even before the actors have said a word. We know that we’re going to experience the human condition; that we’re going to be transported, removed, stolen, taken on a journey and before we’re brought to land again reminded that we’re not alone. This is the healing power of theatre.
Unlike all the other arts, which produce finished works that can exist in isolation, theatre needs an audience to complete its creation. When an audience collectively imagines that what they’re seeing is real, when they laugh together or cry together, when they are bound not by bodies sitting in seats, but by a collective imagination that has been taken from reality and into reverie, there is suddenly a community, and with that community a connection, and with that connection a communion. No other art form can do this.
Despite the gloom that surrounds us this is an extraordinarily hopeful time to work in the arts. In the face of the digital revolution one might have expected theatre to be obsolete by now, yet theatre is far from dead as it still thrills us, challenges us, inspires us, and revitalizes us like nothing else on earth. And to think it does all this with nothing more than the sound of the human voice telling a story. In times of loneliness seek it out.
— Michael French