As I write this, I’ve just spent the last week or so attending shows and events at Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. I have to say, everything I have seen has been marvellous; from a beautiful production of Julius Caesar (cast as a woman!) to a modernised Coriolanus on a jaw-dropping set, and a Rocky Horror Picture Show that was every bit as raunchy and scandalous as it should be!
Spending so much time at the theatre this week has really got me thinking about why I love it so much, why reading the stories, watching movies or listening to music recordings at home just isn’t enough and why live theatre is SO important. I know that we may all feel differently about it; some of the reasons that I’ve put together here may strike a chord with some and not with others, and may be just completely meaningless to those who do not enjoy live theatre at all. Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy reading a few of the reasons why I find live theatre so captivating and that it may motivate you to seek out some live events near you!
(These are in no particular order – each one is just as important as the last!)
A piece of art comes to life!
When we see a play performed live, or musicians playing music right before our eyes, these wonderful pieces of art become real and understandable! They are no longer words or notes on a piece of paper; they are real characters, plots and stories being put out into the world at that very moment, as they were intended by their creators, and you are a witness to it in the audience! At home, there is always be some kind of barrier between us and the art – a book that we have to read to get to the story or a device through which we could hear the music. But at the theatre, the art is being given to us directly, with no obstacle separating us from it, and we can therefore totally engage with it and be immersed in it. And not just the piece of art itself, as in the play or the string quartet (for example!), but the actual art form too. Watching talented and professional actors and musicians doing their jobs make those very art forms a real thing and this is something to behold in itself.
I always find it so interesting to watch different interpretations of any piece of art – I feel like the more interpretations of something that I see, the more I explore the art and the better I get to know it, finding its own meanings for myself. Whether these are different interpretations as presented by the performers, directors, choreographers, writers, or even those as experienced by other audience members during one performance – seeing a new understanding or meaning to a piece of art that I hadn’t thought of before is really exciting! This week I was lucky enough to catch two Shakespeare plays, and they couldn’t have been more different. Coriolanus was set to a modern backdrop, with all modern clothing and even references to modern culture, with things like mobile phones and Facebook messenger. Julius Caesar was totally old school – the set was minimal, no frills or trills, costumes were old-fashioned and the performance really centred only around the actors and their speech. For some, the modernisation made that play more entertaining and relatable, while for me personally, I felt much more involved with the old style one, where I really locked into the plot and the language. At home, we are very limited in what we have available to us – just the book, or a particular recording or two. One really has to see art live to get these different interpretations and fully understand them.
Each one on their own journey
Every time I watch a live performance, I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, to observe the reactions of my fellow audience members. There is always so much happening in the audience! Everybody is feeling something different in connection with the art that they are experiencing, each person is on their own journey with it. In the Shakespeare plays (and in Rocky too, actually!) I found it interesting to see where some people laughed, when people were shocked (even though we all know Brutus kills Caesar, this point still got a few gasps), if some people felt bored, if others looked uncomfortable… And the artists themselves are on a journey too. We can’t know the details of what led them to this specific performance, about the work that went into it and the mental space they had to get to in order to produce something that they had envisioned or heard in their own heads. We don’t even know what might be going on in their personal lives which could be affecting their performance, or their relationships with each other on stage, or how they approach the art of performing. Art makes us feel real emotions, and we all feel them differently. Being part of that, while experiencing your own personal journey at the same time, is special.
Similar to the last point but not quite the same, is the importance of watching art unfold together with other people. At home, we read alone, listen to music in the background while doing other things, watch movies in silence. But at the theatre, there is a sense of human connection, of experiencing our own personal emotions and journeys with the art WITH other people, audience and performers together. In that moment, those precious hours while the performance is in progress, we are all as one group doing the same thing. There is nobody on their phones, answering emails, working or chatting with friends. We, as one big organism, are going through the same experiences together, and all of our attention is in one place. In a world that often feels very lonely and hectic, this is so so so important and valuable.
There’s only one shot
This is something that is just as meaningful for both performer and audience! Although it can riddle any artist with performance anxiety, the fact that they only have one chance to deliver, here and now in this exact moment, adds an electricity to the theatre. They know this, and the audience knows it too. Whatever happens, happens – there ain’t no do-overs. As an audience member, knowing that the art that I am experiencing only exists now, once, in this moment, has caused me to sit up and try not to miss a single thing. As a performer, this feeling is what has encouraged me to take risks, to just ‘go for it’, and also to feel incredibly nervous. It is what makes every second of a performance really matter and be something that I care so truly and honestly about. And isn’t it wonderful to sit in the audience and watch a performer who really cares, to watch them take risks and to see the sparks that fly because of it?!
And following on from the ‘one-shot’ philosophy, are the inevitable mistakes. I love mistakes. I think they are brilliant. Because you can’t get more in-the-moment than a mistake. When an artist makes a mistake, it means they are really experiencing something real; maybe they took a risk and it didn’t work, maybe they care SO much about what they are doing that they got carried away, or maybe they are just real human beings and not computers! To me, mistakes are life and they are wonderful.