How Are We Doing?
I can’t believe we’re already approaching 2025, our quarter-century mark. That’s a significant milestone in history, with enough time under our belt now to collectively look at “how we’re doing” and where we’re going.
The first 25 years of the twenty-first century were a difficult time to live through. Although Y2K never happened, it was a precursor of the “fake news” that would build enough momentum to destroy our trust in the media, government, medical/pharmaceutical industries, and in general all of the large institutions built in the twentieth century that told us what to believe and what to do. Unprotected, we chose instead to silo ourselves into smaller insular tribes with whom we decided to “know, like and trust” (a concept fittingly forged by various marketing strategies). Technology intensified and exponentially expanded each individual voice through social media and the internet.
The next thing to hit us (literally) was 9/11. Whatever vestige of safety and security we had in whatever institutions that were “supposed to keep us safe” were destroyed and replaced by excessive fear against the “other.” The “other” continued to be defined to be whomever didn’t look like us and believe what we believe.
Although 9/11 was an American tragedy, the reverberations were felt globally. With the increasing alacrity to hold “the other” at bay, nations globally reflected the search and destroy philosophy video game theory promoted and kept people hypnotized and in fear worldwide.
And … here we are.
Wars. Hatred. Potentially permanent climate change. Dire economic realities. Unthinkable just twenty-five years ago, democracies everywhere are being threatened with their very existence, to be replaced with autocracy and/or radical change.
Where’s the promise of freedom, prosperity and growth? Will we ever know, like and trust our neighbor again?
Fear expands exponentially, whether promoted for personal or national aims.
The Golden Age of Greece
The fifth century B.C. is known as the “Golden Age” of Greece. That classical era that established the concept of democracy in the first place also saw the birth of the drama itself as the primary offering to the god Dionysus. The Dionysian Festival is a huge part of the celebration of freedom which Athenians saw as an important feature of their democracy – the freedom to discuss new ideas and to reconceptualize established myths and stories to reflect a new “way of seeing” to the citizens gathered in the theatron (which literally means “placee for seeing”). The fledgling democracy of Athens supported this festival and the literary forms that flourished in this setting. Tragedy, in particular, was useful to the state and funded by the monied choregos, or producers, who also usually served in government or the military. As the “noble offering to the gods,” tragedy, unlike comedy, was always a primary platform to communicate the values of the polis. At least it was until the end of the fifth century, when political ineptitude, fear and corruption made the drama “dangerous” (as Plato said famously later, in the fourth century).
Dangerous? We can all agree that new ideas can be dangerous. But dangerous to whom?
Dangerous to the entrenched leaders, of course, who were the funders of the drama anyway and who subsequentially shut down the platform. When the drama returned roughly 100 years later audiences were entertained with broad, physical comedy rather than a theatre of new ideas. Audiences were entertained and distracted by the comedy, instead of being challenged with plays of new ideas. New ideas were thought to be politically dangerous to the established state and the dear leaders’ political strategies.
I think that we, now, like the Ancient Greeks, are in the transition stage from what was into what will be. We are definitely being entertained and distracted by the many “powers that be” that fund our multitude of various distractions.
All this to say that we should wake up and smell the expresso.
Where are we going?
I’m not Nosferatu. I’m a theatre maker. We reflect our times and put it onstage. But like the ancient choregos, I’m interested in putting the poetry of the present on stage to help represent and preserve the ideas of the moment in a new way.
In other words, I’m interested in helping writers craft their contemporary stories on stage to deliver a message meant for a wider platform of people to receive, understand, and to interpret in their own way. Creative expression received is dependent upon the story the receiver attributes to it; the creator has no control over the individual’s interpretation. Such is the nature of art.
And such is the usefulness and function of art in our society. Then and now. To receive new ideas in new ways, and to be open to new modes of thought and understanding.
To understand the “other’ and their world as perceived vicariously in the audience through the dramatic journey is what we do. To honestly experience theater is to experience another’s way of life, way of thinking, and another’s human journey without judgement, in reception of the ideas as they are presented. To present theater today is to challenge the audience to be open to other ways of living, thinking and being human.
Wherever this century takes us, we’re not going very far without knowing, liking and trusting the other and their human experience. Theatre arts help society develop empathy, which apparently we’re dreadfully lacking.
Theatre Makes Us More Fully Human
To enjoy theatre is to understand the functions of the artist in society. To support theatre is to support those artists who sensitively create art onstage in order to reflect ourselves back to us.
Keep making theatre like the world depended on it – because it sort of does.
Up next tomorrow: Theatre kids rule the world (according to the NY Times).