World Theatre Day - Bonus Special 1

That’s what theatre does; it opens up something inside of us or re-confirms something essential we’d forgotten about ourselves or others or the world. Whether we realize it or not, we come out of it changed, transformed, re-arranged. It’s breathtaking, if you think about it. We hold so much power to change the world
— Nina Lee Aquino

What is World Theatre Day?

World Theatre Day is celebrated on March 27. It was first created by the International Theatre Institute in 1962. It is designed to recognize, celebrate and advocate for the value and the importance of theatre. One of the main features every year is the circulation of the World Theatre Day International Message, usually by an internationally recognized figure in the theatre industry.

Read 2019’s message by Cuba’s Carlos Celdrán.

Episode Notes

Why does theatre matter? We all know that it does, at least intrinsically, and we’ve all probably encountered an article shared on Facebook about why it matters to society, or how teenagers who do theatre get higher grades.

This is the question we want to unpack in this episode.

Economic impact

If you live in a conservative city, like Kate does, you probably have to defend the economic viability of the arts to people who’d rather replace them with snow ploughs.

So let’s talk about this: what economic impact does theatre have?

In cities where theatre seems to thrive, what difference does it make to the economy? We understand and accept the impact sports have. Well in London, twice as many people visit the theatre every year watch a Premier League football game?

Now that we’ve curtsied before the gods of capitalism to prove our worth in society, let’s move on to some more interesting arguments for theatre.

Benefits of theatre

Theatre is a literary performance-based visual arts medium. It inherits a lot of the benefits associated with those various media. The most obvious ones are creativity, collaboration, an awareness of history (both real and mythopoeic), a cultivation of empathy, where audiences and makers alike are made to see the world through somebody else’s eyes and to appreciate the nuance and complexity of what it means to be fully human.

Theatre is also empowering, by nature. It literally gives physical space, it literally gives a voice. That’s not to say that theatre is inherently a medium that empowers the powerless; for a long time in its history, theatre served to amplify the stories of the privileged.

But the potential for empowering the underprivileged exists in theatre in a remarkable way.

Theatre is also community-building. For those among us who were lucky enough to find our tribe in a cast, or a program or a community theatre, we understand the incredible bonds that get forged in the rehearsal hall or in the green room

Again, there is space (and the need) for nuance here, as however welcoming that tribe can be, it can also turn into a clique.

But it is community building in a much more profound was as well. In theatre, you the theatre maker welcome an audience into the space and share with them something you created that they need. We don’t create theatre in a void but at a particular time in a particular place for a particular audience. You’re providing a conversation you think your community needs or will enjoy.

These are soft skills that are incredibly valuable along with my least favourite, which is improv. It’s no wonder that theatre has a positive impact on education.

The introduction of dialogue changes everything. Truth comes out of the collision of ideas and the emotional muscle of empathy = essential for democracy. Audience members look at the world from the character’s perspective. Then they shift and see it from the other world’s perspective (empathy).
— Oskar Eustis

The power of story

As we already mentioned, story is an incredibly powerful way to experience the world through somebody else’s eyes, fostering empathy.

Theatre is a very unique art form because of how immediate it is. Think about an incredibly emotional scene in a book you read versus in a play you’ve seen. It’s right there, raw, in front of you. Unfiltered, unedited.

“A living being before a living audience. Relationship unmediated by the contemporary disembodying screen. Not the appearance of a person, but the reality of one. Not a simulacrum of relationship, but a form of actual relationship.”
— Ayad Akhtar

At the same time, you’re under no illusion that it’s actually happening and maybe you should intervene. It’s a safe place where some of the most beautiful and some of the darkest human emotions and actions take place and out of it you experience catharsis, a purge, and you construct meaning.

“I guess what we mean when we claim shared roots between theatre and democracy is not just a matter of historical coincidence of their origin in Ancient Greece. It is rather the potential theatre affords for nuance, complexity and multiple perspectives being considered in parallel. […] Many actors who have played villains would testify to the necessity of fleshing out a morally controversial position.”
— Duška Radosavljević

The power of a shared experience

Theatre is the best remedy for the divisiveness of our current era.

Studies show that the heartbeats of an audience watching a show will synchronize, which provides a sense of oneness (oh and by the way, there’s also research that experiencing a live theatre performance could stimulate your cardiovascular system to the same extent as a 28 minute fitness workout.)

Theatre, like all good art, can be an exercise in escapism or empathy, an adventure or food for the soul, or all of them – you might laugh, you might cry, but either way you’re sharing something with strangers, and in an increasingly divided world that feels important.
— Lauren Mooney
You go to the movies and find it empty and you’re excited because you get to sprawl out and have your space to enjoy this experience alone. You come to the theatre and find it empty, your heart sinks: because deep down you came to be a part of an audience, to enjoy a collective experience. When the play does its job well, you walk in as an individual consumer but you walk out with a sense of yourself as a part of a whole. People’s need for theatre is as powerful as their need for food or for drink. How do we turn theatre from a commodity, an object, into what it really is: a set of relationships among people
— Oskar Eustis
When the lights go to half and then out, they rise again on a united community, bound by the story about to unfold…That is, after all, the job that is tasked to us as theatre artists: to ask our people, our community, our citizenship, to experience something together; something immediate and visceral and necessary. We remind people how big and important and complicated of a thing it is just to be human…
— Nina Lee Aquino

Share your passion

In the end, theatre matters because it matters to you. It has a positive effect on society because it has a positive effect on your life. And ultimately, your passion is the best argument you can make for theatre. Your personal experience is the best proof you can offer that theatre matters.

All these other points are fascinating. As I did research on the subject, it was so interesting to be exposed to people much smarter and much more eloquent than me talk about the importance of theatre in society.

But people’s minds are rarely changed because of logical arguments, sadly. Logical arguments give permission to believe something someone wants to believe but hasn’t committed to yet (so they’re still important). But your best argument is to share your experience with someone. Share theatre with someone. You’re not going to change their minds. Listen to them, tell them that you agree it’s important for roads to get ploughed and invite them to see a play.

Advocate for theatre

  1. See theatre regularly

  2. Donate to theatre (start with $5/month - can’t see a play, donate the cost of a ticket)

  3. Share about theatre on your social media channels (very non-obnoxious way)

  4. Organize an outing with your coworkers

  5. Volunteer with theatre companies

  6. Check out PACT’s advocacy resources

Reading Material

Our theme song is Tri-tachyon by Little Lily Swing available at Free Music Archive.

Nina Lee Aquino excellent 2018 WTD Message, A Different Kind of Heart Surgery

Shea King, Pay people for their work

Lauren Mooney, Why Does Theatre Matter

Ayad Akhtar, An Antidote to Digital Dehumanization? Live Theater

Duška Radosavljević, Mark Fisher and Karen Fricker, A dialogue on theatre criticism in the digital age