The Joys of Live Theatre

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

Why, you may ask yourself, should I bother spending the time and energy to attend a live theatrical performance? The question holds different answers for different people, but three main reasons spring immediately to mind: for entertainment, for interaction, and for personal development.

Attending a play (or any live performance) is a painless and relatively inexpensive form of entertainment. The theatregoer simply secures a ticket and goes to the theatre. There he can enjoy a story, unwind from the burdens of home and/or work, and inform himself of other times or places or people groups. Theatre allows audiences to relax and enjoy someone else’s foibles for a few moments before confronting their own—perhaps with a renewed commitment not to fall prey to the same mistakes of the onstage character.

Plays also provide a unique opportunity for interactions between the audience and the actors that occurs nowhere else. Live theatre can generate a kind of synergy: the audience responds to the actors; the actors respond to the audience. Each reacts in a way that is different every performance. Last summer, our troupe lost electrical power during a show. We passed out flashlights to those in the audience, and they kindly lit the stage for the actors performing as so many dozen follow spots. During one scene, an actor had to read a list as part of the play’s action. He looked around, caught a first-row audience member’s eye, and promptly sat on the man’s lap. The man accepted this as part of the play and adjusted his flashlight to better light the actor’s page. The whole thing looked as though it was scripted, choreographed, and happened that way every night. But, in fact, it happened just that one time for that one audience. Ahhhhh, live theatre at its spontaneous best.

Audience members also interact with each other. One person guffaws at the antics onstage, and someone nearby snickers at the outburst. The intra-audience response phenomenon was evident during a recent run of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Near the end of the play, Julia slaps Proteus across the face for his boorish behavior. Night after night we saw one audience member react to the slap, and then we waited for the secondary response. It usually went something like this:

Julia: “And Julia herself hath brought it hither.” [slap]
Audience member: “You go, girl!”
Audience members: [laughter and various comments] “Did you see that?” “Did she really slap him?” “I can’t believe that!” “Did you hear the person say, ‘You go, girl’?”[and so on]

Lastly, theatre-going is an excellent vehicle for personal development. Theatre can challenge the intellect by introducing new topics or examining old topics from a different angle. Some of the best aha! theatre moments occur after the show in the cars and coffeeshops where audience members respond with their thoughts and feelings about what they witnessed: Was Proteus’ change of heart believable? What would you have done in Julia’s position? Has anyone ever forgiven you quickly? Have you ever forgiven someone else immediately upon being asked? and so on. Shakespeare especially is a master of analyzing the universal human condition. His plays address themes that still resonate with modern audiences.

Whether it’s for entertainment (six hilarious clowns), interaction (live and up close theatre in the round), or personal development (the difficulties of love and the follies of ambition),The Greenville Shakespeare Company hopes that you come see Summer Shakespeare’s 2010 production of Twelfth Night. Opening June 21!

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