It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a Thespian
Updated: Jan 2, 2020
This post was originally written as an essay for my first college theatre class under the title "Why Theatre?" The assignment was to discuss the importance of the art form and why it interests me. I wrote this at a time when I performed much more than I do now, so I reflect mostly on the actor's experience of theatre. After experiencing more theatre from the audience than ever these past two years, though, I looked back and realized the reason for my fascination with performance has not changed. Newly edited for clarity and academic pretentiousness, this essay is not about theatre, really. It's about me and my longing for magic in an ordinary world.
Why theatre? Theatre is a superpower.
Theatre allows me to transcend limitations in a manner which I equate to shape-shifting. There's one thing I cannot accept, yet cannot change: I exist in only one body and circumstance and location. I can only experience so much. There are so many perspectives, worldviews, and adventures I will never have, at least not firsthand. Yet, through theatre, I can (and I have) become a 1920’s flapper reveling at a speakeasy, a melancholy noble banished to an English forest, or an elderly grandmother watching her granddaughter run off to war. That doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the possibilities of what a person can be on a stage. I cherish the ability not only to manifest the characters of others, but also to make them my own.
I also see theatre as a combination of teleportation and time travel. I love watching and acting in theatre for the same reason I love reading: every work is a story, and every story is an adventure. Through complex characters and new settings, I can transport myself into another world. Theatre even elevates itself beyond reading in this respect. Only my mind can travel into the worlds of a page. Yet through the intricate construction and artistry of sets, lights, sound, and costumes, my tangible senses can accompany my mind in its travels through the settings of theatrical shows.
Finally, theatre is the embodiment of super-strength. Through their work, the actors and the stage crew have the power to control the belief and the emotions of others. They can move audiences to tears or raise them to their feet without touching them in a kind of emotional telekinesis. I find it fascinating to stand onstage and watch the reactions of an audience to a scene. It is equally affecting to sit in the audience, feeling myself be moved or opened up to new understandings of fascinating stories.
The art of theatre is the closest I’ll ever get to having or witnessing superpowers in this world. The best theatre deals fearlessly with difficult subjects and, if only for a short time, vanquishes disbelief and inspires amazement in countless people. Theatre is important because of its universal appeal, which I believe is rooted in its embodiment of the superpowers we all long to possess. Whether a person is looking for an escape, a source of entertainment, or a person who understands their experience, there is a performance in existence to save the day.
Why do you love theatre? Leave a comment and share!