The Value of Theatre, Summarized

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Yesterday’s theatrenet roundtable on the value of theatre was the best and most vigorous use of this form of discussion that I’ve seen yet. Well done, Slay, and thanks. We should be doing this once a month. Maybe take turns throwing out the month’s topic? For those of you who missed it or are new to wading through the tangle of this particular web, Ian at Theatre is Territory has dutifully corralled some highlights from various participants’ dialogues and provided links to the full articles, click here for the day’s Coles notes. They’re some of the most thought-provoking opinions I’ve yet read on the subject of our thang.

How is Theatre Valuable?

Matt over at the theatrenet’s one-stop shopping emporium Theatreforte and some friends are spending today blogging about the essential question concerning our corner of the art world: What is the value of theatre? This, I feel, is an outstanding topic for discussion, as the one thing the blogs in our galaxy can agree upon is that what we need is a shiny new audience to work for. Without a clear and concise articulation of why theatre is a necessary facet of contemporary culture the odds of converting the uninitiated is slim to zilch.

This is absolutely a marketing issue. Recently in one corner of the nets there were efforts made by various bloggers to summarize their ideals about new theatre, this in response to a challenge to take a break from our usual verbosity and compress our arguments into easily digestable tracts. Not an easy exercise for writers, or for artists period for that matter. Practitioners require scope and 360 degree examination, but potential customers need brevity. If we are to seed a new generation of theatregoers, we need a convincing pitch at the ready at all times, indeed it should be the first item in our tool kit.

And we should be talking about it more. Well, maybe not the bloggers, that’s probably impossible, but anyone who works in theatre should at every chance be preaching the gospel of why they love their art form, to the point of annoyance. I think a lot of theatre people, at least in Vancouver, are a bit closeted about their passion, maybe because of an awareness of a common perception of it as being boring and staid. That’s not ever going to change until we’re out about it, and nerdishly share that passion with everyone we come into contact with. At least until theatre is branded as the new “everybody’s doing it” thing and enjoys the popularity that we all know it deserves.

So thanks to Slay and co. for inviting us to take a look at the essentials. Here’s a first draft crack at my elevator pitch for theatre as the new black…

What is the value of theatre? In a word: immediacy. Stella Adler said that theatre is the spiritual and social X-ray of its time, and therein lies its value; it has the ability to connect to its audience, to their immediate concerns, their hopes and fears, in the most direct way that an art form can; it is entirely visceral. Being in the room with the artist while the art is being made makes you implicit in the process, part of the dialogue. Theatre is not about the past, or the future, it is not about New York in the sixties, or Elizabethan England, or five minutes ago, it is about the right now, the very moment that the players and audience members inhabit as representatives of their immediate community, and the common rhythm that this generates. Everything that they discuss together is about the things that are affecting them right now. Theatre is impossible to experience passively, and therefore it is our sharpest instrument to carve out change, whether social or personal. Its direct relevance to its community and the communion that it elicits is the reason that theatre has been around, literally, forever. It brings us face to face with each other, and ourselves.

Meh, a bit chewy, but a good start. What about you guys? Why do you dig on theatre?