I was in my first theatrical production when I was eleven. I participated in community and school theatre throughout middle and high school. I've directed 2 plays. I see several theatrical productions every year. I love theatre.
A few weekends ago, I visited the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, where I was fortunate enough to see a few plays with some students and professors from my college. As I sat enchanted in the audience of a haunting and fantastic showing of "Macbeth" (my favorite Shakespearean play), I couldn't help but think that everyone deserves the chance to see live theatre at least once (or many times—if one is so lucky) in their lives. There is absolutely nothing like live theatre, and it is great for a variety of reasons.
Live theatre requires a great mastery of skill and quickness of mind and foot. Although I love watching movies, and I think there are some incredibly talented film actors and actresses, I always stand in awe of great stage actors and actresses. While movie stars have opportunities to take cuts between scenes, review lines, and fix up their appearance in the middle of their performance, stage actors and actresses don't have the same luxuries—and I think that's amazing! From my own experience, it takes a great deal of time, effort, and ability to learn lines, blocking and choreography, improvise when scenes don't go as planned, and make each performance fresh and exciting for every audience. I have so much respect for stage actors and actresses when I watch them perform, because I know how much work they have put in to give me an enriching experience. I see it as an honor to have these artists share their gifts with me, and I don't take that for granted.
I also think live theatre is a lovely escape. Whenever I watch a live show, I become so engrossed by the narrative being told, the songs being sung, or the characters being portrayed, that I can't help but forget my own worries and troubles, a least for a little while. It is so refreshing to be able to live in another place or time for the length of a play or musical. It's not uncommon for me to develop greater or different perspectives on the happenings in my own life after watching characters on stage encounter unique events in their own lives. Our lives are messy. Why not witness someone else's mess for a change?
Most importantly, I think live theatre is a wonderful way to develop empathy for other people. Plays and musicals are stories about the various experiences of many people and creatures, real or made-up. By watching these stories come alive in such accessible, close-up ways, we as audience members are able to climb inside the heads of beings different than ourselves, and understand what life is like from other points of view. Though we do this in reading, theatre is unique in that the people we are learning about are going through experiences right in front of us. In this way, we are able to witness the facial expressions, inward monologues, and multiple characters' points of view at a time, that may not always be accessible to a reader when reading a novel. Since live theatre is, well, live, I think characters can often feel very relatable to audiences. You may watch a show and see a character experience and react to different circumstances than those in your own life, and appreciate and understand the struggles others face. You may even witness a character going through a similar incident as one in your own life, which might help you develop a better understanding of yourself. You're not alone in your emotional experiences. Theatre can show you that.
Go do Shakespeare proud and check out some live theatre if you can. You won't regret it!