In the age of television and film, many see acting on the stage as an obsolete art form. However, this view reflects an inadequate understanding of theater’s importance and value. Spending a few extra dollars (and getting off the couch) to experience live theater is worth it, even if our culture is telling us otherwise.
Live theater is one of the oldest human traditions still in practice, and for good reasons. However, theater is more than just entertainment, more than just an art form. When we relate a story or tell a joke to our friends, or even imagine the course of a conversation or a future relationship, we are engaging in theater.
Theater’s relevance to our day-to-day existence is undeniable. Beyond its role in our daily lives, live theater serves to enrich our minds and spirits in several ways.
Theater is an integral part of our identity as humans. When we are children, we mimic and make believe in order to learn and grow. Many see the imagination as theater in its most basic form. Any time a person creates a scenario in his head, he is drawing upon the same inspiration that fuels playwrights, directors and actors.
Those who work in the theater live in the world of the imagination. Because live theater is essentially a concentrated and sophisticated form of a lifelong activity that we all share, seeing our nature reflected back at us gives us pleasure, makes us think and resonates with us in an almost indescribably profound way. Basically, theater is in our blood.
Furthermore, theater naturally fosters intellectual growth in its viewers. Only considering what occurs on the surface, the exchanges in a play require the viewer’s full attention to grasp all that is occurring onstage. Factor in the dense use of theme, subtexts, metaphor, allegory and all of the creative techniques that are combined in the performance of a show, and the viewer is met with a staggering intellectual undertaking.
Those who have been involved with theater in the past, in any position (run crew, management, acting, directing), find good performances that much more enjoyable because they can appreciate from an intimate perspective all of the hard work and artistic talent required. Theater is an exciting and enjoyable experience to the layman, but the more intellectually involved a person is, the more satisfying it can be.
Theater teaches us about things that we may not have experienced yet and enhances our world view. Perhaps subjects that had previously seemed unimportant take on a little more weight. Maybe after seeing the intimate moments of the life of someone from a different walk of life portrayed on a stage, the realization strikes that people we may never have cared about deserve our empathy.
Theater has also greatly contributed to many civil movements, breaking down barriers between demographics and reminding us that when it comes down to it, we are all just humans trying to figure things out as we go along.
Theater causes people to gather together and engage in intellectual discourse, resulting in self-discovery or self-evaluation. Plays and musicals can bring together dozens of theater artists and hundreds or thousands of attendees. They also by nature encourage people to discuss what they have seen. This means that attendees will probably be having a more meaningful conversation than they would have otherwise, considering that most plays are inspired from controversial or profound subjects.
Therefore, not only is someone having an inclusive and connective experience with the people around her, but she is forced to examine the foundations of the argument they put forth in the discussion. The end result is that coming to the theater facilitates self-evaluation of one’s actions and beliefs.
Lastly, to evaluate the importance of live theater in contrast to television and the internet: the actual production of live theater versus film varies immensely in several ways, such as the pronouncement of movement and speech or the nature of the medium of performance. In film there can be virtually limitless takes to get a scene right, whereas in the theater there is only one take, which changes slightly with every performance.
These differences aside, it is the final effect that truly determines the importance of live theater. Film possesses all of the aforementioned qualities of theater — those that lead to the edification, socialization and entertainment of its viewers. However, only in live theater does the dynamic quality of events occurring right in front of you affect you so electrically. Most attribute this to the sense of reality inherent in live performance: the grounded quality of a story being shown to you in real time and real scale, which you see with your own eyes and can hear with your own ears.
Live theater is not an obsolete art form. It is a vital part of modern life, perhaps even more so with the popularity of film, television and the internet. It not only forms a part of our human identity, it benefits us intellectually, culturally and spiritually.
Mac Blais is a sophomore theatre major from Canal Winchester, Ohio.