This week, before we do anything else about acting, I’m going to look at the big, fat, elephant in the room: Will 2020 be the end of live theatre?
You’re listening to Acting for Community Theatre––a little show with big ideas, stories, acting tips and a lot of heart for community theatre artists. I’m Barbra French.
Is this the end of live theatre? I say no, theatre is not dead, it will be back, and maybe…it won’t completely leave at all. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that it will keep going, but let’s take a look at why I think it won’t die. First, let’s talk about bans and censorship over history.
Theatre has endured censorship and outright bans by both the church and the state many times over the centuries, sometimes FOR centuries. Did you know that the church banned theatre from the fall of the Roman Empire until about 1200 ad? Or that Britain didn’t actually stop officially censoring its theatre until 1968? Crazy, right? But theatre has always survived.
One reason, and it’s a big one, is because human beings have always needed storytellers. It’s how we learn, grow and share our culture and our very humanity. Since ancient shamans told tales of the great hunt around a fire, we have always loved stories and all those who tell them. Stories are how history, life’s lessons and philosophy were handed down through the generations. Stories teach us who we are, what we can strive to be. They fill us with hope, with courage, sometimes with sorrow or fear, or with pride and with love. Nothing can move us to tears or laughter or action like a good story, told by a good storyteller.
And another reason is because artists will always be the ones to speak out. We just can’t help ourselves. Playwrights, singers, poets, dancers, actors and directors…we all have a deep seated need to speak out in our respective mediums. Artists have always been there to expose corruption and encourage critical thought, to shine a light on society’s problems, to offer hope and inspiration during hard times, and to share innovative ideas and creative (and maybe controversial) solutions.
And also, if we look throughout our history, when there is great societal change and upheaval, it always is accompanied by explosions of artist expression and new movements in all forms of art. The 20th century, for instance, is full of new movements in art and theatre, all on the heels of world war, depression, and sweeping technological advancements, like when radio and film threatened to usurp theatre and its very popular touring groups in early 20th century. And this gave rise to the Little Theatre Movement, bringing more intimacy and community to local stages everywhere.
And theatre will be back, because whenever there is strife and hardship, that is when we need theatre more than ever. Because we need those stories, and we need that exposing of corruption, and we need those new, possibly controversial ideas, and we need, more than anything, that sense of coming together, the sense of community. Because we are social, pack animals, and we need to touch, to smell, to have direct, physical human contact. These are things you just can’t get through a screen. We need to come together to share things that are happening right here, right now, to all of us in the moment. That is why when you see somebody watching a concert on video, they often will say something like, “Oh, I wish I’d been there!” It’s simply written into our very DNA to physically create and share this human experience together.
Theatre is the epitome of voluntary, artistic co-creation, and that is why audiences and artists love it so very much. And where there is need for these stories and experiences by the audience on the one hand, and a desire to fulfill that need by artists on the other…you’ve got all the magic required for theatre to live and breathe again.
And that brings me to my earlier comment that perhaps theatre may not even completely leave at all.
Anytime theatre has been banned or repressed––like during those 700 years of the dark ages that I mentioned earlier––it has always survived underground. There were surely bards and travelling troupes all over Europe during that time, quietly performing, and there is no reason to think that this won’t happen now. Young theatre artists, some fresh from their degrees, will be eager to create art. Playwrights have a treasure trove of new material to write about today. Actors and directors will have a burning desire to speak out about what’s going on. And audiences will have a great need for truth and for hope. For all those who are healthy, and who voluntarily agree to get together to share their stories, a way will be found. In private homes, in storerooms and warehouses, in barns and in studios, theatre will undoubtedly thrive, maybe in small ways, under the radar as it always has, despite being banned or outlawed or censored. It’s in our natures to get together as a community and share our hopes and fears and dreams.
And someday, when the more mainstream houses open again, and they will, in some fashion, at least, we’ll need to be ready. Ready to create. Ready to share. Ready to shine.
Our job now is to prepare for those openings, and next week, I’ll start talking about how we can do that. How we can all prepare to be better theatre artists, so that we can really shine for our audience. Until then, please give this a like, subscribe so you don’t miss an episode, write me a review and share it around.
And until next week, I’m Barbra French. Thanks for listening.
There were surly bards…there were surely bards to trouping. There were surely bards trooping. There were….ahhhhh… Take twelve.