Theatre communion or revolt?

Mary (from the comments) on theatre communion:

“I like the communion idea, and I’ve been consciously aware of this on at least a few occasions that come readily to mind.

“A theatre in Rochester, NY, used to have an annual season-ending 2-night playreading festival. I’d go straight from work each night and be there until 11 pm or maybe later (I would’ve happily stayed all night). It was like being part of a secret society or attending a family reunion. The atmosphere was casual and welcoming and exciting, the faces in the audience were friendly, enthusiastic, and familiar, and we’d see the same actors come back year after year, always telling us how they looked forward to this time of year and this special event. I know for a fact that many who attended (both those on and off the stage) felt incredible communion.

“Another example that comes to mind is when I traveled to Toronto on the weekend after 9/11 to see 3 plays. All 3 plays seemed like they had to have been written in response to 9/11, although 2 were at least 50 years old. I vividly recall the impression that nobody in the audience would even dare breathe to break the spell of what we were experiencing. There was none of the common disruptions (coughing, candy-wrapper rustling, phones beeping, etc.). Only rapt silence. I always felt that theatre was my religion, and this weekend cemented that feeling. In the immediate wake of 9/11, everyone was turning to their religion for answers.”

What’s your favourite theatre communion story? Is the sense of shared experience really the best thing about theatre? Counterpoints?

20 thoughts on “Theatre communion or revolt?

  1. The joy of a “shared experience” is not the most important part of a theatre experience, nor is it unique to theatre. I get as much “shared experience” joy from swapping crazy YouTube links with my best friend over MSN.

    Or am I missing the point? Do you mean a communal experience with a roomful of strangers?

    What is most important to me about a theatre experience is how immediate and ephemeral it is. At it’s best, you get this irreplaceable had-to-be-there electricity.

  2. Yeah, but you can get that feeling in lots of places: comedy clubs, concerts, picket lines, orgies, etc. You haven’t yet convinced me I should drag my ass across town to see some so-called play at CanStage, Tarragon or wtf.

  3. Um, don’t look at me to convince you to drag your ass to CanStage.

    Look, bad theatre is boring and embarrassing. But good theatre is moving and fun and AWESOME. There isn’t any one argument that will get your ass across town to see a play – I don’t know you, and I don’t know what you’re into. I can’t honestly tell you that theatre will make you a better person, because, frankly, I know a lot of assholes who go to the theatre on a regular basis.

    Good theatre means different things to different people (it must, if We Will Rock You is such a huge success).

    Personally, I think it’s a waste of time to sit here debating WHY theatre is important, or what makes a play good. These are intangible things. Just make something awesome for people to see.

  4. “I can’t honestly tell you that theatre will make you a better person, because, frankly, I know a lot of assholes who go to the theatre on a regular basis. “

    Oh snap!

  5. As an artist, my aim is to make everyone who attends, a WORSE person.

    That’s “communal”, too.

  6. I think I agree with Theatre as communion idea, theaters being somewhat like churches and plays a little like sermons. Sure, you can have shared experiences elsewhere, but like going to church theatre has a ceremonial feel to it… not sure exactly how to bottle this…

  7. I’m getting into just quoting people instead of writing stuff. This is the quote that remains a constant on the right hand side of the blog:

    “After the years and years of weaker and waterier imitations, we now find ourselves rejecting the very notion of a holy stage. It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep the children good.”

    Peter Brook – The Empty Space

  8. DON’T bottle it, Simon (What a strange choice of words). I’m glad you’re an Obama supporter & all; I hope you spread that word far & wide. But let’s keep sanctimony out of theatre, unless you got some serious magic going down, know what I’m saying?

    Church is predictable. Church is doctrine. Church is conformity.

    Today’s theatre should be the opposite of all these things.

  9. i don’t know, i’m feeling undermotivated today. it’s not a topic i’m crazily invested in. i’m with a combo of Peter Brook and Alison on this one. (but not that about that blasted Lopez!)

  10. I think Alison would assert that her Lopez thing is a secular matter. Correct me if I’m wrong on this, Alison.

  11. Hey Anon, speaking of Obama, I’m sure you are aware he goes to Church. Have you heard the sermons of Jeremiah Wright? Not sure I agree with him,but they are far from conformist, not doctrinaire at all, and certainly unpredictable. I guess when I compare the theatre and the church, I’m thinking of a more idealized vision of what a church could be at the center of a community, a place for communal self-reflection. I think we certainly need more of that.

  12. Okay, but I’m frankly suspicious of the whole communal worship thing, with good historical cause. If you actually check out your New Testament, Jesus advised that we should each pray and worship ALONE. Some of the wisest words ever said by that (real or fictional) man.

  13. “Okay, but I’m frankly suspicious of the whole communal worship thing…”

    To me, communion isn’t an act of worship; it’s about finding commonality, feeling a sense of oneness. Too often, I feel disconnected from the people I spend the better part of my days with because we have differing ideologies or priorities or whatever. When I go to the theatre, I find that oneness, that shared humanity, because theatre is an active distillation of the human condition.

    Sure, other art forms evoke the human condition and I enjoy them as well, but there’s something about being right there in the same space while the actors are “being” the humanity that I share. On occasion, I’m overcome by emotion at the curtain call, and it has nothing to do with the plot of the play I just watched. It’s a result of a communion with what the actors have just experienced. Honestly, I don’t know how that happens, but it does.

    Maybe theatre started when someone realized telling a story wasn’t enough for them; it had to be lived, in the moment.

  14. I believe in the church of Mario Lopez. It’s all right, Mike. ‘Let yourself be saved by the bell.

    Hm. I went to the theatre long before I ever set foot in a synagogue or a church. I prefer theatre, but I don’t think I can honestly say that theatre makes me feel closer to god. I go to the theatre because it’s fun. Because I get to see and feel and think things that I don’t normally get to see or feel or think. Because it opens up a window into lives and stories that I otherwise wouldn’t experience. Because sometimes there is free wine at opening night parties.

    Are these holy reasons? Is theatre a holy experience? I don’t really care. But when it’s good, I love it.

  15. Theatre to me has been a holy experience. The memory that comes to me is returning after my first trip to Australia in December 2000, interviewing for theatre school, and attending the final night of Glenn at Harbourfront. I had seen the original but this was the remount that had been at Stratford before.

    Anyway, the play talks about what it means to be a Canadian artist (among other things) and since that had been the same question I had been wrestling with in the context of my NIDA application, it really felt like true communion, on par with the religious experiences I had back when I was a practicing Catholic. Me, the artists all at the top of their form, the hush of the dark, the sense of others around me, combining to becoming something that was vibrantly alive for a moment. It raised me to an awareness level that was beyond my everyday experience, and it’s that feeling I try to engender in the work that I do.

    One can’t get around that theatre was originally religious ritual. I believe that impulse still survives in our communal unconscious.

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