Why Do We Need Theatre?

I will not say 2020 was an interesting year, nor will I say that it was a year of great transformation and neither will I say that it was a year that changed the world. All of these statements would be incorrect on some level. The only thing that we stand to comprehend at this point is that 2020 was a year of Great Realizations. We realized the fragility of life, we realized the importance of family, we realized that our homes are our sanctuaries, we realized that our actions impact our neighbors and most of all, we came face to face with our own mortality.

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We have come out on the other side with greater appreciation for the world we live in, greater respect for our fellow man and greater respect for our own time. Whilst a loud phenomenon named The Great Resignation is taking place wherein a large number of people are walking out of jobs that do not support their newfound desires for flexibility, there is a quiet artistic revolution underway. Locked indoors, some languished, some lingered and some created. Long insomnia fueled nights were passed with a paintbrush in hand or pen to paper or even practicing facial expressions in front of a mirror. Whatever our choice of creative outlet may be, we cannot deny that on some level we were all acting. We reassured our families sitting far away, of our safety with a big smile. We learnt to smile at our neighbors with our eyes as the masks concealed our toothy grins and most of all we learnt to tell ourselves on a daily basis that all that mattered was that we were healthy.

See how we use theatre in varying degrees in our everyday lives! You may not consider yourself an actor but you act all the time! Now that you know this, read on to find out why you need theatre and all the benefits it can reap for you:

Confidence & Self-Esteem

Nothing helps a person grow faster in confidence and self-esteem than theatre. It’s a bit like “fake it till you make it” except that this produces real results. I honestly do not know where I would be without my theatre education. It was through theatre that I learnt to think about every situation differently, in that it made me conscious of my own behavior. It made me think of what I hoped to achieve out of every single situation and adjust my behavior and words accordingly. This takes a person’s focus from how they are feeling, whether it be anxiety, nerves or excitement, a training in theatre allows one to focus on the intended outcome and choose their words, expressions and actions wisely to that end.

When we experience ourselves excelling in expression, it grows our confidence in our own abilities thus positively impacting our self-esteem. We may not feel the impact at the time but when we are able to face daunting and nerve-wracking situations through careful application of our theatre training, we realize the full extent of the benefits we reaped!

Awareness of Self and Others

In addition to equipping us with the skills of how to present ourselves, theatre heightens our perception of how others are feeling. It increases our empathy, imagination and tolerance. As we play different parts when training, we learn to see each situation from varying perspectives. When we speak lines written for us by a third person, we learn how other people communicate. Most of all when we react the way a reaction has been written for us rather than through our own instincts, we come to understand a completely different pattern of behavior. All of this comes together to help us understand how each person contrasts from the other and how different people react under distinct circumstances.

This training proves to be invaluable as we go through life as we are able to understand the hidden meaning behind what people do not say. We begin to understand what sort of biases and patterns of thoughts produce certain behaviors and it enables us to be more tolerant of others. For example, if someone screams at you at a traffic light for a minor disagreement, if you are not accustomed to think of the other’s perspective, the incident may ruin your day. However, if you have had some training in theatre, you will know that these sorts of reactions are not quick to manifest. This behavior is an indication of deep-seated distress which shows up every time something doesn’t go that person’s way. In this simple and impactful manner, theatre training continues to give back much beyond the scope of the classes.

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Cognitive Benefits

This is the least talked about benefit of theatre albeit an essential one. People who engage in continuous learning through life benefit from a sharper, healthier brain on account of the learning process growing new dendritic branches on the brain neurons. Without getting too scientific, every time a person engages in drama exercises, their brain cells or neurons are exposed to new stimuli and perspectives which grows new brain cells or neural pathways as the brain tries to deal with it all.

Consider this, when you go to a dramatic arts workshop or class, you somehow come out feeling smarter. You may attribute this to a feeling of accomplishment related to trying something new or tackling a difficult scene but really what has happened is that in a small frame of time you enacted various situations. This repeated enactment has provided a diverse array of stimuli to your brain which does not know whether the situations are real or make-believe. In order to process the repeated unfamiliar situations, your brain has quite literally “grown”, to put it most simplistically. So, now you know that when you feel cleverer after regular theatre training, it is not your imagination. You really are smarter!

Imagination & Observation

Probably the most obvious benefit of theatre training is that it helps you cultivate a healthy imagination. When learning and applying theatre techniques, people are required to create a make-believe situation using props, environment and their experiences. The most impactful part of this process however is that you learn to temporarily inhabit a make-believe space. You have to reach within yourself to extract a convincing performance which stretches the very fabric of your being. You soon grow to learn that your ever-expanding imagination does not only include your own experiences but also the experiences of those you observe around you. You become like a giant sponge, constantly observing, absorbing and expelling when performing.

For example, if you need to enact the part of a character who is drunk, you may need to imagine the intoxication washing over you. You may choose to think back to a time you were intoxicated or if you don’t drink you may choose to imitate someone you had witnessed in the condition. Passing a make-believe experience through your mind, greatly expands the horizons of what you are capable of imagining and harnessing.

Social Cognizance

Theatre is the quickest way for children and adults alike to learn more about literature, history, social issues (past and present), mythology, legends, folklore and much more across a variety of cultures. In fact, the quickest way to understand a culture is to either read their mythology or take part in their theatre which covers a variety of the above-mentioned cultural aspects. Theatrical reproductions of various cultural issues also help draw parallels between the past and the present.

If you do not believe me, talk to an actor or director for an hour about how people have reacted to the coronavirus restrictions. They will not only be able to add layers about different sorts of behavior because they have most likely already been a part of at least one reproduction of the exhibited behaviors but will also be able to give you historical and cultural parallels across time of similar reactions to other pandemics. They will then overlay their understanding of the behaviors with their understanding of the culture and build you a little story that has expanded your horizons just through a conversation. Those involved in theatre not only enjoy but consider it their job to be aware of various cultural aspects around the world and give considerable thought to the motivations driving the behaviors.

In conclusion, the above is only a quick look at how theatre is all around us and how we can all benefit from some training. An exhaustive list may not even be possible to create as theatre impacts every individual differently, and moreover it grows with you. It gives you, perspective and integrity which is not easy to describe in words but stays with you in all the years you walk the Earth.

Theatre wields its power by serving as our joint conscience

Sarina Byron for Ripple Effect Artists. Sarina Byron is a Contributing Writer and Editor. Sarina has been published c.50 times in the last year, covering a range of topics including business, lifestyle, wellness, fashion, book reviews and the art of writing. Sarina also serves on the Board of Ripple Effect Artists in the fulfilment of their mission to harness the power of theatre to highlight social issues.

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Ripple Talk

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Ripple Talk is a Blog by Ripple Effect Artists, a Not For Profit that addresses social change through theatre