Theatre is for Everyone
Why Theatre is for Everyone
By: Jeff Langley, CLS Theatre Arts Director
For me, the choice to do theatre was an easy one. No other experience I’d tried had quite the same sparkle. I never felt so invigorated and motivated as I did when faced with the unique challenges of putting on a play.
But there are plenty of students terrified at the idea of standing under the lights in front of a crowd, or perhaps they are influenced by some stigma that the arts are for weirdos or by the pressure to “get a real job.” Too many to count are the jokes I’ve heard or the well-meaning advice that pursuing the arts as more than a fun occasional pastime is a waste of time.
I would like to outline three main reasons I think anyone and everyone can benefit from participating in live theatre, even if it’s just an occasional lark, and not something they would dream of pursuing vocationally.
Creativity, Community, and Character.
Well, this is just obvious, right? But let’s not take it for granted, or assume that it’s a nice add-on personality trait, but nonessential for productive personhood. Professionals in a myriad of fields believe that training in the arts can equip students with a broad array of life skills. Not least of these is lateral thinking, the ability to think “outside the box.”
Thespians regularly engage in the sort of imaginative play that many folks leave behind in childhood, with the result of not only an enriched, nuanced experience of life’s wonders, but also an ability to navigate life’s travails when there are no textbook solutions available.
In my experience, with students of all ages and adults alike, an ensemble of performers is a unique kind of tribe, a special experience in community. Sometimes it is hard work from start to finish, and fraught with conflict. But most often, even when it’s a bit awkward and challenging at first, it is a rewarding experience, forging relationships that few other contexts could allow for.
This is particularly true of what we do at CLS, with productions that include grades 3-12. In what other setting do eight-year-olds and eighteen-year-olds (and everything in between), learn alongside each other and collaborate to produce something? I have observed the most delightful and unexpected friendships develop among students with years between them, who will never be on the same classroom or athletics roster. I love it when elementary students break passing period etiquette or line formation to enthusiastically great upperclassmen they see in the halls at school.
We are hardwired for Story. That is, stories, which touch our emotional/spiritual as well as our thinking selves, both reflect and shape the meaning of our lives, more than any other mode of discourse. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Reason is the natural order of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.”
Theatre, then, which we might say is storytelling up on its feet (and which certainly preceded written narrative), has tremendous power to express and impact what matters most to us.
As much as we post-Enlightenment Westerners like to think of ourselves as rational beings, striding objectively into a neutral public forum to engage in logical discourse on life’s most important questions, our deepest values are shaped largely on a precognitive level by our desires – our “vision of the good life,” which is soaked up into our bones through the narratives we tell and, indeed, perform.
We do not learn courage and honor and loyalty from a lecture or treatise, but by reading about Hermione Granger, Atticus Finch, and Sam Gamgee – or, better yet, playing such characters on stage, and spending months getting inside their heads.
So, the stories we tell and enact matter. A lot. Especially for those of us who proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Ideally, the arts exist not only, or primarily, as an “extra” to make life more interesting. They shape the kind of people we are, on an individual and corporate level.
Live theatre is a particularly powerful form of this sort of meaning-making, in that the participants (the actors, at least) are more fully, bodily immersed in the world of the story than, say, the readers of a novel are.
Just as we can “absorb” characters’ virtues, so are we at risk to take on their vices. And so the reader, movie-goer, theatre patron, etc. must be discerning. It is just the same with life off the stage, is it not?
I think the most important and exciting lesson about acting in particular is one apart from questions of craft and technique, but has to do with living—that is, with one’s eyes and ears wide open. Observing. Noticing. Experiencing. Not just physical environment—this is about empathy, as alluded to above. Standing in another’s shoes, and thereby becoming a more compassionate child of the Kingdom.
In developing characters, I hope that we may develop character, and that in performing stories, we may better learn our place in the Great Story –the Tragicomedy of history, of God’s relentless wooing of his creation.
Jeff Langley has been teaching and directing theatre at CLS for five years, often working alongside his wife, Christina, who is a dancer and choreographer. They met directing a musical together, for a program in which they’d both taken part as children. They enjoy performing when they get the chance, and their two-year-old shows a strong predisposition for being dramatic as well.