Ironically, often I’m told, “Theater is dead.” I’m not offended, but it does get me thinking.
True, entertainment is now readily available at our fingertips (literally). Entertainment has evolved into something else, with edited reality shows putting regular people (non-actors) in an intriguing situation, rather than storylines created by writers, directors and actors. So, the question is: Why go to the theater?
These are my answers.
- The magic. A stage production can transport the audience into a different world, and this can create a special energy that you can actually feel. It only exists when there are actors AND an audience. Those specific moments in that specific place in time will never be repeated, and those moments of inspiration produce an internal catharsis that can have seismic effects on our community.
- It’s live. Compare seeing video footage of Niagara Falls with actually being there, feeling the scope and power of nature. Seeing actors on stage, live, moving and talking, and becoming completely different characters in front of your eyes, that’s exciting. In fact, studies show it is stimulating for your brain to fall into a story “live” compared with “on screen” where, in many cases, the opposite occurs.
- Enjoy the fruits of labor. It’s interesting to see a story told on the stage. It’s the culmination of what took weeks or months to create, a collaborative effort coming together (hopefully)] effortlessly; characters, the set, costumes, sound and lights, and of course the audience. It’s thrilling to think it was all created for that moment, and seeing it unfold is entertaining. Studies show this encourages the community to work together on larger projects – producing positive outcomes for its members.
- Support the local economy. When a theater is active, it attracts people, which can invigorate local restaurants and shops, or cause more to open, creating jobs, and can ideally bring attention to municipalities to improve surrounding infrastructure. We’ve done the math, and Elm Street produces more than $1 million in economic activity every year.
- Come together. A performance can bring together anywhere from tens to hundreds of people, experiencing and witnessing something that’s unique, moving, funny, or at least enjoying a bit of escapism. With everyone used to being in front of a screen, this is truly an important reason. The screen can bring isolation, while a live performance brings a community together. If you know me, you know I’m big on empathy … when a community finds common ground through these stories, it is amazing what we can do.
So, what now? Go see a play or a musical, and take a friend. There are plenty of shows and concerts to enjoy at Elm Street, and my genuine hope is that you make theater a bigger part of 2020 than you were expecting. You’ll be happier for it.
By Christopher Brazelton, contributing writer and Executive Director of Elm Street Cultural Arts Village.