It’s Because It’s LIVE

“Cat and Fire” - photo by Michel Fillion 

I’ve been thinking about why I value live theatre.

Someone on IndianaAuditions.com who goes by “spoon” posted this link to a report from the National Endowment for the Arts:

http://www.nea.gov/news/news08/Theater.html 

The report says that there has been a broad and rapid expansion of not-for-profit theatres across the United States while at the same time, audiences have stayed the same or declined.

Someone who goes by “epfeffin” pointed out this Theatre Blog post by Alexis Soloski in the online version of the British publication The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2008/dec/16/theatre-american-plays-nea

Soloski says that when the NEA found out that people were reading less fiction and poetry, it started the Big Read initiative to encourage people to read these forms of literature because they are important for an engaged, independent-minded democratic society.  Theatre is important, too, so why not have a Big See initiative to encourage people to attend live theatre shows?  Theatre attendance encourages empathy and “empathy encourages a compassionate and socially adept populace.”

Epfeffin responded on IA:

“I don’t know if I entirely buy the underpinnings of Soloski’s argument–“empathy” is a pretty thin hook upon which to hang the whole enterprise–but I appreciate the overall notion that a theatergoing populace is a public good and is worthy of fiscal support.

Still, even in a best-case scenario the challenge of getting butts in the seats will remain with the theater practitioners, and down here amidst the forest’s trees it can be kind of a stumper. Is it all about the material being presented? Is it all about the marketing? A little from column A, a little from column B?”

I love the idea of a “Big See” initiative, but I agree with epfeffin that we shouldn’t hold our breaths for the National Endowment for the Arts to develop local theatre audiences.

The name of my blog, Indy Theatre Habit, grew out of a comment that someone (I think it was Jim Lucas) made on IA a while back.  He said something like, “We need to find a way to encourage people to MAKE A HABIT out of going to the theatre.”

For those of us who already love live theatre and consider it essential, it can be useful to think of the old adage, “Each one reach one.”   In other words, not only could theatre participants be going to more of each other’s shows, as playwright Amy Pettinella humorously suggests in the current IA thread, but we could take a step outside our comfort zones and invite someone who doesn’t usually attend theatre.  Someone from the office, for example, or a neighbor.  Once we have helped them make space for theatre in their lives, maybe they will be that much more likely to make the space for it themselves.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been trying to do with the two free tickets per show that I receive from theatres.  

Mind you, I don’t always invite a new person to accompany me because a) I’m shy – what if they don’t like me?  what if they don’t like this show? – and b) I also love being able to share the wealth with close friends and family, people that I already know enjoy the risky adventure of attending live theatre or who I already know love me enough to overlook my faults.  I enjoy thinking about what I know about my friends and trying to match them up with what I know about the shows I am planning to see.  This is trickier than I expected, especially when I don’t know anything about the quality of the production, but it’s fun.

As for the empathy thing…I agree with epfeffin, that’s not exactly the reason that going to live theatre is important.  I’m not sure how to articulate why I value live theatre, either, but it does have something to do with the fact that it’s live.  Yes, there’s a fourth wall, but we are all in the theatre space together.  The art is bringing up feelings and thoughts and memories and resonances, but at the same time we are also HERE and NOW.  Together.

I signed up for Twitter yesterday, bringing the number of ways that I communicate with people up to at least thirteen.  Some of the others are phone, paper letters, various email accounts, various listservs, in-person meetings, video conferencing, IM-ing on IA, several methods on Facebook, writing my own blog, commenting on other people’s blogs, podcasting, Smaller Indiana, a few other social networks, online chatting, and now tweeting.  I love communication in all forms.

But the most important one is still talking and listening to another person in person when we have both made space to be together, focused on each other.  There’s something magical and healing about the quality of that experience, even when the surface content of the conversation is ordinary.  It is intimate, so it’s scary.  But it’s also…sacred.  Not religious, but sacred.

Live theatre is a form of sacred space, too. 

We all need room for the sacred in our lives.   We all need room to go to the theatre.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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