This article, 7 Reasons Why Theatre Makes Our Lives Better, is from TheatreWashington.org is really old news now, but I finally got around to reading it this morning. I don’t agree with all of them, of course, but two specifically were right up my alley. So, naturally, I thought I’d repost them.
Second, theatre is a sophisticated expression of a basic human need — one might call it an instinct — to mimic, to project stories onto ourselves and others, and to create meaning through narrative and metaphor.. We see this instinct expressed in children when they act out real or imagined characters and events. We have evidence of theatre-like rituals in some of the oldest human societies, long before the foundations of Western theatre in Ancient Greece. So theatre matters, in essence, because we can’t help it. It’s part of what makes us human.
Fourth, theatre models for us a kind of public discourse that lies at the heart of democratic life, and builds our skills for listening to different sides of a conversation or argument, and empathizing with the struggles of our fellow human beings whatever their views may be. When we watch a play, we learn what happens when conflicts don’t get resolved, and what happens when they do. We develop our faculty for imagining the outcomes of various choices we might make in our personal lives and our political lives. It’s not surprising that, in repressive societies, theatre has often been aligned with the movement toward openness and freedom. In South Africa theatre played a role in the struggle against apartheid; in Czechoslovakia, a playwright became the leader of a new democracy. If our own representatives and senators in Washington went to the theatre more often, I suspect we’d all be better off.
The other reasons — theatre does no harm, brings people together, adds to education and literacy, contributes to the economy and revitalizes neighborhoods, and influences the way we think and feel — are all important, but many things in our culture do this too. The fact that mimesis is a basic human need is reflected in the arts in general, but in particular in theatre (I’ve been involved in theatre from a young age and have always had leanings in this direction). Also, the part about discourse is particularly important, as theatre is usually associated with “higher art” and therefore reflects more complicated discourse most of the time (but not always, and not always from the venues you’d expect).
Food for thought indeed.