Theatre - those of us who work in it or simply adore it know how important is is. We live and breathe it. But if somebody was to ask us why it was important, how easily would we be able to explain it to them? And for those that don't share that same unbridled passion for it, how could we even hope for them to understand?
If we suspected theatre was an important and integral factor in our lives before, the events of the past year has solidified this fact as being forced to live without it has been, quite frankly, unbearable.
The 'Musicals: The Greatest Show' concert that aired recently evoked such extreme feelings in me, I was inspired to write a piece about why theatre is so important to me and so many others. With contributions from people who gave me their own reasons for their love of the industry, here is why I feel theatre is so essential, and why we are all counting down the days until it can re-open following the roadmap announcement:
THE SENSE OF ESCAPISM
The most common answer of why people love theatre so much is the sense of escapism it brings them. The world isn't always an easy place to live and we all have things going on in our lives that can weigh us down so the chance to switch off for a couple of hours, forget about our own problems and be transported into another world can be therapeutic.
@reecekerridge1: "Theatre is important to me because its escapism from the real world. The arts allows the audience to come into a theatre, cinema, museum wherever it may be and forget the outside world, allowing them to immerse themselves into us telling a story and free their mind of doubts and worries and fill it with storytelling and joy. And to me that's magical!"
Other mediums such as movies can also do this but I'd argue real performance in front of you is, perhaps ironically, more realistic. While a good movie can always leave me gripped, it seems easier to snap out of the moment and be drawn back to reality throughout it - whereas performance in front of you in "the room where it happens" is more immersive and harder to snap out of.
@vanessa_deeee: "It's all about being transported in another world - unlike cinema or TV, the little live quirks and mishaps make it a unique experience"
We always know that the real world and our own problems will be waiting for us when we come out of the theatre (Anyone else had that dreaded moment where you check your phone in the interval or afterwards and been greeted with even more issues?) but for those couple of hours, everything can be put to one side so the magic can unfold itself.
THE RELATABILITY IT PROVIDES
Have you ever sat in a theatre and suddenly been hit by a wave of emotions from a moment you can relate to and/or have experienced yourself? For me it could be moments like having the time of my life at Everybody's Talking About Jamie before having the rug pulled out from under me at a moment incredibly close to my own personal experience, or a song in Dear Evan Hansen that sums up how I have felt at a time in my life. You can't bottle that feeling.
The relatability factor is an incredibly important factor as it can normalise something you are going through and make you feel like you are not alone in that. I used to find that comfort in songs - the aftermath of a messy break-up would be made all the better from finding a song where that artist has been through the exact same thing (In some cases I'm certain they were writing about my life). In recent years, I have found that solace in songs from certain musicals and the shows themself.
These moments in theatre can also give people the strength they need to make those tougher decisions in life. Whether it's being in a toxic or abusive relationship and seeing a character in a show walk away from it, dealing with a mental health issue or from somebody following their dreams. I have heard stories from performers who have related to the roles they play and the same can be said for the people who sit in the audience and are awestruck by what they are seeing on stage.
IT'S GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
No, I don't have any medical evidence to back that up but I can speak from personal experience. If I haven't been to the theatre in a little while, I feel the impact it has on my mental health. A much needed night at the theatre can remedy whatever issues I was having and bring me back to a better place. A former colleague once told me I was wasting my money on theatre tickets and should spend that money down the pub instead. I argued I enjoy putting my money towards an experience I'm going to remember. No judgement for those who love a night down the pub but the lack of undeerstanding or willingness to understand somebody elses passion spoke volumes to me. Needless to say, I no longer work in that particular place.
Sometimes you are in need of a good laugh. A trip to The Play That Goes Wrong does the trick. Similarly, there are times you just want a good cry so might take yourself to Les Miserables - and that is perfectly healthy. Theatre is one of the few mediums I can think of that provides you the opportunity to release your emotions. I might come out of a particularly traumatic show completely dehydrated through the number of tears I've shed throughout that production but strangely feel all the better for it.
@Ntmessybutkind: "Theatre is important to me because it's like a blanket. You go into a theatre and just forget about everything for 2 hours. All your worries and all life's stress just stay at the door outside"
Bringing it back to the previous points of escapism and relatability, this can decrease your stress levels and bring you a much needed sense of calm.
THE CONNECTION IT PROVIDES
A word that frequently came out when asking people why theatre was so important to them was "Connection".
@UKTheatreNet: "It’s the single biggest connection we have seeing people in front of you dramatise, perform and vocalise emotions to tell a story of love or passion"
As humans we strive for connection - it helps us to make sense of this strange ever-changing world so the opportunity to connect with a show on the stage is more necessary than some may realise. Bringing it back to the relatability factor I mentioned earlier, connecting with a piece, character, song, monologue, dance or literally anything we can see in that theatre can bring us a sense of joy.
@AstroChristiane: "The way you connect to the audience and performers. How cast changes, understudies and subtle changes night by night keep it fresh. I feel much more drawn in when I see a live performance rather than on TV or stream. You feel the chemistry between performers much more."
Connecting with the performers on stage is an intimate affair you can't really get going to a concert at the o2 arena. One of my favourite performers enjoys winking at me whenever she clocks me in the audience - which usually leads to puzzled looks around me. We all know that meeting the performers at the stage door after is not a given but when it happens, it can make a performance even more meaningful and make that connection a powerful one.
@BeckyCrook1: "Theatre is magical . For that brief time you can be in the moment connecting with the performers and sharing the experience. I love the sense of excitement you have before a performance begins, it releases so many emotions and brings so much joy"
THE SHARED EXPERIENCE
The connection is not limited to the performers on stage. There is something quite special about being in a room with 100s or even 1000s of other like-minded people, all enjoying the same performance.
This is one aspect of theatre I took for granted before and definitely something that has changed my attitude due to the pandemic. Before Covid, if there was an empty seat next to me a couple of the minutes before the curtain came up, I'd cross my fingers that nobody would sit there so I would have that bit more space. Being lucky enough to return to the theatre last year mid-pandemic for social distanced perfoemances was a lonely affair. Seats next to you, in front and behind all empty to ensure safety may have been necessary but it was certainly jarring and took away slightly from the shared experience as nobody felt close enough. What I wouldn't give to be squashed next to somebody fighting for the arm-rest while their coat draped over my knees. It's the little things we miss.
@loureviewsblog: "It's about being close to other people sharing a unique experience. The anticipation of seeing a show. A familiar venue, or a new place. Being lifted up, moved to laughter or tears. Making a memory."
Being around people with the same interest can also lead to new and unexpected friendships and relationships. There's something about sitting next to a complete stranger in a theatre that gives you the confidence to start up a conversation. 99 times out of 100 they'd feel the same and reciprocate the conversation and some of these have led to genuine friendships being made. Somebody I've met at a show I'm actually gone back to see the show again with that person. You just don't get that anywhere else. You wouldn't strike up a conversation with somebody random in a restaurant with you bcause you're both eating there, would you? "Hey. So I see we both like Big Macs". In that respect, theatre is special.
@Sal_Nics: "It’s that sense of a shared experience. Audience and performers going on a journey together. There’s just something indescribably magic about live performances."
Let me be blunt - People in general can suck. I'm not saying for a minute that everybody inside a theatre is flawless cos Lord knows I love giving a death stare (Ask me about the blazing row I had in the interval of Dreamgirls one day) but there really is something magical about these shared experiences. One example that will stay with me forever is talking to a lady who was crying in the interval of Everybody's Talking About Jamie and telling her that there was a moment in act 2 she may need to prepare for - the performance ended with her giving me a hug. A complete stranger. Where else does that happen? I'm telling you - there is something about theatre that brings the best out in people.
IT IS INCLUSIVE
In a problematic world where prejudice is still a huge problem, theatre feels a lot more of a diverse and inclusive place. While not perfect by a long shot, there are still shows that need to do better when it comes to their casting, it feels a real step up from the rest of the world.
Whether it is colourblind casting, the use of LGBTQ+ actors and roles or disabilities present on stage, theatre provides an opportunity for people to see a reflection of themselves on stage and we shouldn't underestimate the significance of that.
Focusing on an area close to my heart - growing up gay, I struggled to come to terms with my own sexuality. One of the reasons for this was the lack of visible homosexuality in my world. A young person in the same situation who goes to the theatre and witnesses something like Fun Home or &Juliet may just find that comfort to make sense of their own situation. I know I would have.
IT IS ACCESSIBLE
Whether theatre is completely accessible is a debate we could have for a while. It's true - some shows might price out the bulk of their audience with extortionate prices, but a number of shows take this into account and actively have tickets at lower price levels, schemes such as young persons discount and "200 seats under £20 for each performance" ensuring people are able to go to the theatre no matter what their situation is.
LIke I said, it isn't perfect. I won't mention specific shows of late with crazy prices. It is that delicate balance of making sure theatre is accessible while still keeping the show profitable. They may not always get it right but it feels like we have been moving in the right direction. Ironically, theatre feels more accessible during the pandemic as theatres are all closed. Through online performances and proshots, more people have been able to watch shows they may not have usually been able to. Series' such as The Shows Must Go On and National Theatre At Home are massive contributors to this.
IT MAKES MEMORIES
I want you all to stop reading this for a moment (Not completely, come back after) - stop and have a think about a time you have been to the theatre that makes you smile. Have you managed it? That's the power of theatre.
For me, some of my favourite memories are to do with theatre - the time I surprised my partner with tickets to his favourite show that night, that time a show I have seen repeatedly went wrong and the curtain had to come down on the most unfortunately hilarious moment. Both these were Wicked strangely enough but these memories make me smile. Experiences like the first time I see a new show that is destined to become one of my favourites, or seeing a performer I've always admired on stage for the first time - these memories will stay with me forever.
When I think of other aspects of life, I struggle to think of areas that make as big an imprint as theatre does in my memories. That bottle of vodka in Sainsbury's being reduced might make me smile in the moment, but 've probably forgotten about it by the time it's finished, that gorgeous dog I saw in the park this morning - I'm not going to remember that next week.
Theatre is one of those aspects of life that stays with you forever. The power of theatre has also been known to evoke memories in people with dementia - it is a powerful medium that we should never underestimate.
IT IS DESTINY
From speaking to people about this subject, theatre seems to pulse through their veins. There is no question that this is what they were born to do. They thrive off of performing for people and seeing their reaction. During the pandemic, performers have had to take new jobs to pay the bills but as soon as they are able, theatre is where they will return. While the Government may not always take it seriously and bring out offensive campaigns asking if they've considered retraining in cyber, all of us reading this know that is never going to be an option.
@LauraJFuller: I think so many of us feel that theatre is simply who we are. It's not that we can't do anything else - we're talented and adaptable.But we chose to be involved in theatre cause we're bloody good at it, we love it,and we know in our core it's what we were put on this earth to do.
Asking why theatre is so important, I wanted a performers perspective. Star of Beautiful and &Juliet Cassidy Janson gave me a beautiful (no pun intended) quote of why it means so much to her, incorporating multiple points from this article:
@Cassidyjanson: "Because human’s thrive on shared experiences and interaction. The actors uplift the audience and the audience give back to the actors with appreciation. It’s symbiotic."
IT IS LIFE-SAVING
Never underestimate theatre. I have already spoken about the health aspects attributed to it, but it can go beyond that. Theatre can save peoples lives. I won't name anyone for obvious reasons but I know people who have been in a really dark place in the past but have managed to see the light at the end through a trip to the theatre. Be it seeing their favourite show for the thousandth time or being blown away by a brand new show for the first time. Theatre is powerful. It has the power to comfort, to heal and even to save.
Theatre is such a crucial aspect of life for so many. Some may not understand its significance but that shouldn't detract from it. Theatre can be subjective - certain shows, genres or even theatre itself. I always say that is the beauty of it. While I may have differing opinions on shows I might like and my friend might hate or vice versa, we can always bond on the fact we both love theatre.
This article only begun to scratch the surface on why theatre is so important to me and so many others. I hope there was something in hefe that you agreed with. I'd love to hear from you though - what makes theatre so important to you? Let me know at twitter.com/ATDazzles or in the comments here.
Remember, we may be without it for now but theatre will be back bigger and better than ever. And when it returns, we'll all be there cheering away.