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Escapism Vs Relatability: Why Theatre Is So Powerful To Me

We all know theatre is incredibly powerful, right? Well, no, not everybody does, but let’s assume if you’ve stumbled across this you are probably as big a lover of theatre as I am and will be able to relate to what I’m saying. Maybe you’re not and just want to see what all the fuss is about? Whichever camp you fall in, let me try and explain to you why theatre is the most important thing in my life.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may see me regularly tweet something about why I find theatre so powerful, but with that, I am limited to the confines of one tweet (and nobody deserves a thread of my ridiculous ramblings) so allow me to try and put it all in one place. Hopefully, this will strike a chord with some of you. Perhaps not, but at the very least it’s going to be cathartic to be able to let it all out once and for all.

For me, theatre experiences can fall in to two main categories – Escapism and Relatability. Both are extremely beneficial and it doesn’t have to be so separate, with many shows managing to allow the audience to both escape from their everyday problems while simultaneously being able to relate to what is happening.

So why is that so important? Well, life can be tough sometimes. Especially the last few years – so many of us have been through such testing times, facing so much hardship, misery and immeasurable loss. Where do we go when we are faced with problems or a really tough time? Well, for me I go to the theatre. That’s not the only solution obviously, but it’s mine – and I imagine if you’re reading this, it might be yours too. That is why I struggled so much without it during the lockdowns when theatres were closed for what felt like a lifetime, but why I threw myself into any way I could still consume theatre such as streamed productions, and actually what gave birth to this website (So you will always have that to blame for it).

When we want to forget what is going on in our own lives, we go to the theatre for escapism and that is what is so truly beautiful about it. For a couple of hours, we can sit there and immerse ourselves in a different world that may be slightly similar to our own or completely different. Whether we are returning to Oz or travelling to a Greek Taverba, whatever the story is, we switch off the part of our brain that worries and just focus on what is taking place in front of our eyes. It really is magic, and the work that goes into creating that can’t be undervalued. It takes a village to create that, with all the cast, crew and creatives involved responsible for this beautiful escapism. It really is like therapy for me – there are times during a show where a certain thought from the real world might pop into my head, but a good show will be able to make me push that back in an instant.

Relatability is the other factor that makes theatre so powerful for me. Before I became the theatre obsessive I am today, I took comfort in music for relatability. When I was going through something, finding a lyric or a song that I could relate to made me feel less alone and like whatever pain I was experiencing was normal or at the very least, somebody else had been through that before. You can never underestimate how important that is, that feeling of community or solidarity. While I still love lyrics for that (of course now they’re usually musical theatre), I find this relatability in theatre as well.

An example that instantly comes to mind is Dear Evan Hansen. While I know it’s not to everyone’s taste (and I won’t even mention the movie), the message it gives during ‘You Will Be Found’ really is theatre at its most powerful. There’s not a single time I can see that song being performed where I don’t struggle to keep it together. If you have ever been in a situation where you have felt alone, abandoned or insignificant, a moment like that can provoke such extreme emotions in you – it might be that it’s too close to home, but there is comfort in the familiar and this relatability factor is what makes my heart soar or possibly my heart ache – there is beauty in feeling though, even the most brutal of heartaches. It’s when you feel nothing at all for a show that it hasn’t really done its job. The fact you can sit in the theatre and have such an extreme moment due to relatability while the person next to you might be experiencing their own relatability moment, or possibly nothing at all, is the beauty of theatre and again, what makes it so incredibly powerful.

I experienced this in perhaps its strongest form at Cruise last night – a show I had seen last year and already loved, but I took something completely new away from it at this showing. Over the last week, I have been going through a particularly hard time in my life, and while I’ve been blessed with some amazing friends trying to say the right thing to me, nothing was sinking in. I heard the words I needed to at Cruise and I was not expecting to. In this instance, it was a speech that is given to a character when he faces immeasurable loss. This speech talking about carrying on and essentially living spoke directly to me, and gave me the kick I needed to stop wallowing and move on. Even though the circumstances weren’t identical, I found the relatability there in a moment during an entire experience that really was true escapism. For that, I am thankful.

You will always catch me talking about why theatre is everything to me and why I couldn’t imagine my life without it. I will defend it to those who say to me “Why don’t you just go to the pub instead?” because they don’t understand. I might not understand where they go to let off steam or how they spend their evenings to make life worth living, but this is my choice, and this is why I am still on this Earth.

There are many reasons why I adore theatre so much and why it has now completely taken over my life (I’ve said it before – this website is the best thing that’s ever happened to me thanks to all the doors it has opened and the people I have met through it) but I wanted to try and describe what it is about the actual shows that make me love it so much. The overall experience is important to me, as you’ll know if you’ve ever seen me talking to anyone who will give me the time of day before or after a show, but it’s these two factors that make it so crucial to me, and perhaps I never realised quite how much until that moment last night. After all, we all need somewhere to escape to once in a while. Why not the theatre?

So why have I written this? Honestly, I felt like I needed to. If for nothing else, just for myself. I needed to verbalise just why I keep saying how powerful is to me. Whether I managed to articulate that effectively enough is down to you. Maybe you think I have just spouted a whole lot of nothing, maybe you can relate to this a little bit or completely. I’d expect there will be people who fall into each camp, but theatre itself is subjective, therefore the reasons we all love it must be subjective as well. At the very least, talking about it gave me that brief escape that was needed ahead of my next trip to the theatre.

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