Necessary Theatre

Hello, Internet, today is Friday, December 6th, and I have seen some very good theatre recently.

First, almost a month ago now, Hard Ticket Theatre from Corner Brook brought in their stellar production of David Ives’ Venus in Fur to the LSPU Hall.

Venus in Fur is a stunning two-hander that takes place entirely in an audition. It explores sexual politics, power dynamics, loyalty and infidelity, and it does it all while being insanely funny and ever so slightly uncomfortable. Hard Ticket’s production was brilliantly designed, well acted and inconspicuously directed. An excellent production – I only wish more people had seen it.

Last weekend, I caught Engine Productions’ You Are Here at the Barbara Barrett – thank goodness. I managed to squeeze it in on Saturday afternoon on a week when I worked every evening.

I admit to being a bit biased. You Are Here has been one of my favourite scripts for years now. It’s Daniel MacIvor at his best: subtle, witty, wholly human. And I’m biased again because my friends produced it… but really, it was lovely. Simple, honest, just good storytelling. It deals with personal relationship – the good and the bad, the warm and fuzzy and the devastating. I wept twice, and spent the next 24 hours recovering from the impact of that show.

Then, earlier this week, I was lucky enough to see David Mamet’s Oleanna, the inaugural production for the brand new Sweetline Theatre. I knew nothing about this show going in, other than the artists directing, stage managing, and acting in it. It. Was. Brilliant. Power dynamics, complex characters, moral ambiguity… it’s the kind of play that makes us talk to each other about where our boundaries lie, what we believe to be black and white and what falls in the grey area, it leads to arguments and storytelling and conversation and thought. It made me physically uncomfortable, in such a way that I could not stand up when the standing ovation took place. I couldn’t – I was wrapped around the knot in my stomach.

I had a conversation with a friend this week about what “sells” theatre. It always seems like such a deal to me: for about $20, you can see real people play out a story, often within 10m of you. How is that not of infinitely better value than paying $14 to see Bad Grandpa? What is it that drives me to see live theatre many times a month when I can go whole years without seeing a movie in theatres? Why am I so, so disappointed when I see bad productions of good scripts, or good actors doing their best with a play that’s dead in the water? And how – HOW – can I get other people to appreciate the magic of sitting in a room and allowing other people to show you the insides of human existence through honest storytelling? Why don’t they COME?

Is it because they don’t know about it? Because it can’t be mass produced, played back, omnipresent, you don’t stumble into a love of theatre by accident – you have to take the risk and GO to a play. You have to dedicate time and money into an experience that might very well bore you. It might be bad. There is a lot of bad theatre out there (similarly, there’s lots of bad music, literature and film to choose from). There’s lots of theatre that won’t suit you, whether it’s any good or not. But sometimes, you’ll be given the chance to connect: not just with the performers and the rest of the audience, but with yourself. The shared experience is often also a personal one… and maybe that’s the point: to be shared and personal, to be an anonymous audience member who comes blinking out into the world fresh from the theatrical experience, and know a little bit more about yourself, and know a little bit more about the person who was sitting next to you.

My friend called it “Necessary Theatre”, and I love that. As artists, we are all striving for it. There is no challenge so compelling as to be necessary to someone’s experience of life. Not always to change it, but to offer something that the audience needs, even if they didn’t know they needed it before you offered.

I needed to see all three of those stand-out, remarkable shows in the past month. I needed them to set me thinking about who I am as an artist, as a woman, as a student, as a mentor, as a survivor of the ins and outs of life. And I needed it to set me talking to other people about those things, and how they experienced those plays and those pieces of their lives that define how they think about themselves.

It teaches us who we are, you see. And it teaches us how to be better.