What is Theatre?
Why is it important?
Chad Jones, a local theatre critic posed this question to the theatre community recently for an article he was researching. They sent out an email asking for responses.
Naturally, I responded.
I ask this same question of my students at Berkeley Rep. I usually get a host of fairly esoteric responses:
Theatre is about Relationships.
Theatre is Conflict.
Theatre is Story telling.
Theatre is Emotion.
Theatre is Four Planks and a Passion.
Theatre is Sacred.
Then I set up two flats that serve as impromptu wings of a procenium and dim the lights in the audience side of the room and brighten the lights to a soft glow on the "stage" side of the room and the class ohhs and ahhs accordingly. Here is theatre suddenly manifested. The inadequecy of words is confirmed in the flick of a light switch. Theatre, in its most distilled form is simply a place. A meeting place, as it were, where truth can be examined, prodded, poked, tickled, revealed and otherwise discovered. I see the stage as a petri dish into which the stuff of life is poured and our audiences become the scientists peering through their microscope lenses.
And we actors, we happy few, we band of brothers, we brief and abstract chroniclers of the times, we are just so much bacteria swimming on the alter of Thespis. We are, in other words, the stuff that dreams are made on.
But before you can get to that you've got to get through tech.
And theatre, of course, is (among all those other things) a collaborative medium.
For the actors tech is usually a time for bonding.
There is a lot of waiting around while the other artists helping to create our pageant, namely lights and sound and props and set designers get their due.
This time is spent by the actors, who must take a back seat to the technical demands of the show, doing alot of bonding. This takes the following forms:
Teasing each other.
Standing in the hot sun.
Telling the same jokes again.
Doing short snippets of acting interrupted by our parapetetic and intrepid stage manager Ritz Gray yelling "HOLD." on the God mike.
Did I mention Complaining?
By the time we finally get to run the play for the first dress rehearsal, we've completely forgotten what we did when we rehearsed it. To some extent this helps bolster the illusion of things happening for the first time that actors like to foster. A little game we play with ourselves to keep the synapses from scabbing over and the elusive spark of spontanaiety alive even as we repeat the same action for what seems to be the hundreth time. But finally struggling through it without stopping feels liberating and strangely resonant.
Shakespeare is spoken here.
In this place.
In this sacred space.
In this wooden O.
In a wooded canyon in Orinda.
And maybe, just maybe, We really are the stuff that Dreams are made on.
Next: The 300 Person Director.