Since November, I have been riding around the province looking at productions from Brockville, Cobourg, Prince Edward County, Belleville, Kingston, Peterborough and Ottawa. These have been very diverse plays, from Christmas regulars to Canadian classics.
And now we are here, in Cobourg, our work done and time to kick up our heels. And we should celebrate with this slow coming Spring, because it is finally time. Time to ask ourselves why do we do Community Theatre? Lots of hard work, people bicker, actors get sick, sets are not ready, tickets are not selling…. and we have worked sooooooo hard, we made difficult choices, sacrificed family time and money, bribed others to come on board, rejoiced in our successes and reflected on missed opportunities. We have communed together in the secular churches of our theatre space because we love this ephemeral art called live theatre. We have aspired to create meaningful experiences for participants on both sides of the stage.
Theatre, professional or amateur, is really about aspirations, about longing and the desire to find answers. Small theatre concerns itself with small questions while great theatre with the big Universals.
Small theatre is not the size of the company but the size of its aspirations. Small theatre asks so little of actors and directors, perhaps because we have little expectation of ourselves in this age of anxiety and multiple distractions. We are obsessed with our iPhones, our selfies, our tweets… and have created whole industries devoted to our “happiness,” our well being, our need to fill the VOID with instant gratification. And all that makes for weak acting and weak theatre.
The more we are self involved and focused on ourselves, the less interesting we become. Actors, directors. designers and yes, producing companies need to be generous- and courageous not just with funding but in spirit. Attention must be focused outwardly not so much on what one is feeling but on what one is trying to accomplish.
Effective, organic actors upon whom the burden falls of making plays come to life, these actors must have abundant generosity and courage- two rare attributes which our current national hypochondria render in miniscule supply and rate in even lower esteem. WE should not be concerned with niceties, we need not be concerned with giving offence. We are on a mission and we demand that audiences pay attention. If we can connect with them through our courage and gusto, then they will not stay home and watch Netflix but will choose to have an exciting experience with us, maybe even participate on or backstage!
For all that to work, YOU, the participating actors/directors sitting here today, are charged with bringing desire rather than completion, will rather than emotion to the stage. In the end your productions will be compared not to ART but to LIFE; and when the audiences leave after the show, they will speak of their lives, hopefully, rather than your technique or your staging. They will not go home humming the set! The difference then between what you bring to the passionate delivery of each play and what some others might bring to less meaningful fluff is the difference between a rousing fire and one LED bulb. Let us not sink to low level ennertainment with no T for theatre!!
And really folks, lets face it. Current audiences sometimes demand very little of their actors, directors, playwrights: a continual portrayal and repetition of the idea that nothing very much is happening around us, that we need not worry even in the current climate of fear and suspicion. Audiences have asked of the actors that they repeat to us constantly that it is OK to laugh when not amused, to cry when not moved, to beam gratitude upon the unacceptably dumb and vapid-sometimes salacious TV shows, to condone the unforgivable, to express delight in the banal. Most performances then are false and mechanical, but this is by no means a coincidence, it is a sign that our society is demanding that its creative people repeat the catechism essential to our tenuous mental health- that nothing is happening, that nothing very bad will befall us and that we are SAFE.
Look at all the disclaimers we now have to post!!
Perhaps once actors, directors,designers are not feeling the great fear of censure or misunderstanding that the bums in seats mentality dictates, and they feel supported by their group 100%, then there is some hope that the tide of our unhappy inward turning time has turned and we are once again prepared to take a good hard look at ourselves.
For me, these last few months have been filled with discoveries about the groups working away in pockets all over Eastern Ontario. I rejoice in the courage they have shown when they cast aside concerns for comfort on stage and try new and challenging things. I am encouraged when I see the joy that comes from their finding the power rather than the fear when faced with the necessity of artistic choice. I am heartened when they find the life-giving pleasure this involvement means to them, no matter what on stage or backstage role they take on whether it is a splendidly silly farce or a deeply moving tragedy.
For all this we need courage in abundance, both personal and collective. I know it exists in EODL because I have seen it in each company.
I want to thank each group for your hospitality, for returning Community to Community Theatre, for trusting that the gift of your performances will be gratefully received no matter how complex the material.
If theatre is the coming together of all the arts, then I thank each and every company for returning all those arts to life!