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Humans had built a world inside a world, which reflected it in pretty much the same way as a drop of water reflected the landscape. And yet … and yet … inside this world they had taken pains to put all the things you might think they would want to escape from- hatred, fear, tyranny and so forth. […] They thought they wanted to be taken out of themselves, and every art humans dreamt up took them further in.
With the treasury offering a massive ‘hurrah’ to our theatre-scene in its budget last week, Mr Osborne clearly has a great amount of faith in the continued success of British productions. Further, bumping the tax-break up to 25% for regional and touring productions, the Chancellor of the Exchequer evidently wishes to encourage, elevate and nurture the cultural well-being of both the theatre scene and theatre-goers outside of the capital. Whilst audience numbers for stage productions had decreased somewhat in the early years of the twenty-first century, the past two years have seen a healthy return of bums-on-seats, and a promisingly renewed interest in theatrical performances from the 15-24 demographic. And surely, such economic fuel can only foster a greater interest in theatrical attendance, with a possible outcome being to pass such savings onto those purchasing tickets.
Yet, is theatre of such an importance to our lives? In a world where entertainment is as readily available as a microwavable meal and as varied as buttons in a haberdashery, is theatre a noteworthy competitor?
Unlike any of the other art forms that have emerged with the progression of technology, the fundamental focus of theatre is on ‘the man’; as an individual, as one among many, and of his relationship with other individuals and the many around him. With the ‘being’ at the heart of theatre, the medium permits important and uncomfortable issues plaguing humanity to be played out; racism, homophobia, sexism, oppression. Whilst such problems and the like are dealt with in most all other art forms, it is very much a unique privilege of the theatre to present them with a localised and narrow view; a tunnel-vision concentrating on the root of the cause within ourselves as human beings. Being confronted with such unnerving issues and viewing them in a distinct and personal arena, we are forced to consider such plague in our own lives.
‘In all ages the drama, through its portrayal of the acting and suffering spirit of man, has been more closely allied than any other art to his deeper thoughts concerning his nature and destiny.’
Whether consciously or not, we attend the theatre to measure our lives against those that are being presented before us; it invites us to consider our own values, our own behaviour and our own attitudes. The physical proximity of the actors and the story pulls us into the ensuing action more so than anything being presented on a screen could.
The exclusivity of a theatre production- whether drama, dance, musical or opera- in its limited run, offers its audience an experience that most others will never experience for themselves. Unlike all other art forms, which after an initial presentation become available on demand for all who wish to experience them, theatrical performances exist only as-and-when they are staged; and such limited availability produces a bond among its audience which other mediums have failed to reproduce.
Following on, and quite simply on a very shallow level, theatre brings people together. With the exception of film screenings, the major entertainment-arts of today happen solely in front of a screen. The physicality of attending a performance elevates the leisure; experiencing the performance with others- with strangers- allows for an experience that is lost elsewhere. Alongside experiencing the performance, one experiences the reactions of their fellow audience members, and such experience can alter one’s own experience of the performance itself. The very gathering of a number of people to undergo a production- even if only for two hours- and being able to gather somewhat of a casual consensus concerning the piece is a pleasure that has been lost in the isolating art forms of the present day.
Whilst no one can deny the success and artistic merit of modern forms of entertainment, theatre will always be the parent art form from which such modern offerings derive, and whilst such offspring have perhaps surpassed it in audience numbers, the paternal art continues to strive forward; entertaining, educating, evolving and evaluating.