I never intended on getting involved in theatre. Sure, I would go to a pantomime every year, and occasionally a play or two, but the idea that theatre was anything more than an occasional distraction never really crossed my mind. That it could be a true art form, that a performance could draw tears, smiles and existential revelations from audiences in equal measure, had never occurred to me. Then I actually started taking part myself.
Theatre, for me, is the ultimate art form for self-expression. Though actors spend their time pretending to be other people, in building that façade there is a kind of self-reflection that I have yet to experience in any other situation. A character cannot be built from nothing, and so every role will always be derived in some way, however big or small, from the memories or qualities of the actor. From the heartbroken lover to the enraged psychopath, actors must delve into themselves to find the material of their trade, often having to confront the sadder, darker parts of their lives to do a character justice. There is a level of catharsis in this, which should not be overlooked.
However, it is not only the actors that benefit from this. One of the reasons I believe theatre is so powerful is precisely because audiences get to bear witness to the fruits of this emotional labour. There is a humanity to watching people play characters on stage, seeing real people using nothing but themselves to tell stories and make statements. As audience members, we see in them aspects of ourselves and of our lives, and that is what connects those on stage to those in the darkened seats before it. After all, is theatre not the art that most closely resembles life? We see real people doing real things just a few metres in front of us, speaking almost exclusively in dialogue, a most fundamental cornerstone of human existence.
Plays are a snapshot of life, imagined or otherwise, that cannot be replicated by a musical instrument or a paintbrush. Dance, perhaps, achieves similar effects, though without the use of speech. However, the other performing arts should not be brushed aside. As much as I love theatre, it could not be what it is without the well-crafted set, good lighting, fitting music and, in some cases, expertly choreographed dancing. Without all this, a stunning performance could quite easily be reduced to a two hour long bore. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an art form that is not in some way utilised in theatre. From swordplay to hair and makeup, even the less mainstream forms of artistic expression have a vital role to play in creating the theatre that we all know and love.
I encourage everyone to go to the theatre. There will be shows you hate, shows you love and shows that will confuse you to no end, but a broad spectrum of theatre is a priceless experience. Beyond going to see theatre, I implore you to also consider taking part in a production or two yourself. Everybody can act, and, in my opinion, everybody should. The emotional intelligence and confidence gained through performance are fantastic, but even those benefits pale in comparison to the relationships that you will form along the way. On stage, everyone has to have each other’s back, because if something goes wrong, you’re all going down. There exists between cast mates a kind of ‘in the trenches’ mentality, a camaraderie that often translates to some of the strongest and most genuine friendships imaginable. So please, if you can, go and make theatre. I promise you won’t regret it.