“Theater is dead,” Someone told me a while ago. I wasn’t offended (despite my everyday life being in the theater world), but it did get me thinking. True, entertainment is now readily available at our fingertips (literally). “Entertainment” has evolved into something else altogether, with edited reality shows putting “regular” (non-actor) people in dramatic or apparently otherwise-intriguing situations, rather than storylines created by writers, directors, and actors. There are still some good reasons for people to go to the theater, and to keep it alive.
Why go to the theater?
1) MAGIC. This may be the top reason theater-goers will tell anyone as to why they go to the theater. When done well, a stage production can transport the audience into a different world, and this can create a special energy that you can actually FEEL (non-existent with either just the actors or just the audience). Those specific moments in that specific place in time will never be repeated, and that experience is very special. It’s magic.
2) IT’S LIVE. Compare seeing a picture of the Eiffel Tower to actually being there, seeing and feeling the enormity of that structure, or compare seeing video footage of Niagara Falls to actually being there, feeling the power of nature. Ok, I’m not comparing a play to Niagara Falls, but seeing actors on stage, live, moving and talking (sometimes singing and dancing) and becoming completely different characters in front of your eyes, that’s exciting. And if mistakes happen, well, that’s live theater! Yet another reminder that we’re all humans, and humans err. Things happen and good theater can incorporate any errors to make them work, going with the flow.
3) FRUIT OF LABOR. It’s really interesting to see a story told on stage, culminating what took weeks or months to create, a collaborative effort coming together [hopefully] effortlessly; characters, set, costumes, sound and lights, and of course the audience. The need for a coordinated effort is truly amazing. It’s thrilling to think that it was all created for that moment (even more thrilling when done with an original piece — something created out of nothing), and when it’s done well, that’s art, and it’s entertaining.
4) BRAIN WORK-OUT. Great theater can get you to think and/or feel something, jog a special memory, or figure something out.
First, emotional intelligence and creative thinking are instinctive human abilities. Just like our body’s muscles, these abilities must be exercised in order to keep them active and strong, and the performing arts can help develop these forms of intelligence. Emotional intelligence is essential to both personal and professional success.
Second, theater contributes to education and literacy. Watching characters on stage talk back and forth requires sharp attention, quick mental shifts, and agile language skills.
5) ECONOMY. When a theater is active, it attracts people, which can invigorate local cafes and shops or cause more to open, creating jobs, and can ideally bring attention to municipalities to improve surrounding infrastructure.
6) 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 bringing about a bit of escapism. With everyone so used to being in front of a screen, this is truly an important reason.
7) FUTURE. Going to the theater, especially with children (obviously to child-appropriate productions), not only does all of the above, including bringing FAMILIES together, but also builds the foundation for the future of theater, for future playwrights, directors, actors, and other creative professionals, so that humanity can continue the beautiful cycle of culture. True, there are few parents who’d want their children to grow up to become [usually underpaid and overworked] struggling artists, but I did see this quote in a photo somewhere and liked it a lot: “EARTH without ART is just EH.” Performing arts, from mainstream “showbiz” Broadway shows to bold experimental theater, can engage, question, move, and make people happy.
So what now? Go. Go see a play or a musical, and take a friend. There are plenty available at your local municipal theater or in the larger repertoire and national theaters. Most theatrical productions in Israel are of course in Hebrew, but there are plenty of local and foreign English-language productions (more on all the types, and what they offer, in other posts), as well as occasional productions in Yiddish, French, Russian, and other languages. Enjoy!