What Theatre Does Better

Recently, I was asked to submit a posting to my publisher’s website.  We had just gotten done talking about the same old thing: How tough it is to do theatre these days with TVs in every pocket.  Below are my really, really wise thoughts about this…

MAR 20, 2015

What Theatre Does Better

As playwrights, how do we compete with TV? Movies? Facebook? Videos of kittens driving Harleys? (Love that!) I hear a lot of theatre folks bemoan the losses we’re feeling to those sources. Our wobbly art form is about to face plant. We’re doomed and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. Last one out, get the lights, OK?

But wait! This past summer I was reminded what exactly theatre can uniquely do better. Theatre, done well, about humanity, (not as homework) connects us. A live experience, that’s what we come for. TV, movies, and Facebook can’t provide that.

Last June, the Peninsula Players in Wisconsin premiered my show, The Tin Woman. It’s a play about a heart transplant recipient and her eventual meeting with the family of the donor. The themes of the show were loss, family, grief, a willingness to live on, and healing relationships. Oh and it’s funny. All of those are fairly universal things we all know about so that connection was already half there. But the “enhancements” to the evening were the thing. Certainly great direction, setting, and an outstanding cast were most important. We did a talk-back for the show and nearly half the audience stayed. Doctors, nurses, the recently bereaved, so many people wanted to relate to each other. (Getting a local hospital to sponsor the show was so easy, a no-brainer.) Audience demand turned that one planned talk-back into four. Chats with artists before the show were popular. We had two actual heart recipients from Second Chance for Life, a transplant support group, attend the show and join a talk-back. I had drinks with any patron who wanted to talk more, yes, I’m very brave. Living humans, living real life. People hugged me and cried like I’ve never experienced. And they remembered where they had that experience.

In your face, Expendables 6!

Something similar happened with a small musical I wrote called A Dog’s Life. The theatres that did it planned dog adoption nights in their lobbies beforehand. Got spay/neuter coupons from a local group to hand out. Even non-theatre goers, (the dog folk/cult, of which I am a proud member) came out in force. It was an event. AND, in that case, the best part was that we had over fifty dogs adopted. Those people will remember where they found Rags.

Mic drop, Two Broke Girls!

I think those “enhancement” ideas, not unusual, just brought to the top what live theatre does already. It provides a living, literally touchable experience.

Right now, cafés and the board game industry are experiencing a huge uptick in business. We’re finally looking up from screens, seeking connection that won’t be found on any of Time Warner’s four hundred offerings, no, not even Wrestlemania X. A trip is always more fun with someone. To feel part of a community of the like-minded, to see resonant human experiences and recognize them as familiar, to live in a shared world, that’s what we’re selling; connection.  And we have the market cornered.

–Sean Grennan