“The theatre is a place where one has time for the problems of people to whom one would show the door if they came to one’s office for a job.” – Tennessee Williams
Yesterday I wrote about the wonderful and inspirational adaptability of the cultural sector and the art that it produced during this eight month lockdown. Today, I would like to focus on one such project that I was lucky enough to see. Because being at home watching a play performed live created an intimacy I could never have anticipated.
Theatre has been an important part of my life since I was a child and my mum took me to see my first play. We saw a youth theatre company’s performance of ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’, a musical adaptation of the story by the brothers Grimm. I must have been about eight years old. It had a life changing effect on me.
It wasn’t just the performance of the actors not much older than me or the creepy story itself that had such an impact. It was the way we as an audience left the theatre which I can still vividly recall 25 years later. The cast was waiting for us in the lobby, singing the show’s main theme song, forming a guard of honour as the people they had performed for exited the building. It was so magical to be looking up, literally and figuratively, at these teenagers who I instantly admired for performing so beautifully for me on that theatre stage. And thus the magic of live theatre had left its mark.
Ever since, theatre has been an important part of my life, as a writer, and as an audience member. It has been an inspiration, creatively and personally.
As the pandemic rages on, so we must be without a lot of things that bring us joy. But as I wrote yesterday, people adapt and adjust and so did the theatre world.
And so I found myself watching a live performance/reading of a play during two summer nights. ‘I, My Ruination’, was a new stage play written by Kevin Artigue and directed by Hal Brooks for the Cape Cod Theatre Project.
Lockdown keeps us at home, but at the same time takes us places we would otherwise never visit. Living on the other side of the ocean, seeing a play at this theatre would’ve been highly unlikely. But yet I did, though virtually.
Obviously it was incomparable to going to the theatre. The interaction with your fellow audience members in the same room, the sounds, the sets, the murmur before the room goes dark… We have to wait a little longer until we are able to experience theatre like that again.
Yet watching virtually had its own unique aspects that I had not expected. It seems unlikely. The experience of theatre is unique because you share this experience at the same time in the same place. With a play performed for you via zoom that cannot in any way be replicated.
And yet in a way it was.
As we all spend most of our days this year at home, a lot of us struggle with loneliness, anxiety and lack of intimacy. But watching, though alone, actually felt like my loneliness was briefly interrupted.
Like in a theatre, you knew you were all joined together for a couple of hours, sharing art, the story, emotions. Even if I couldn’t see anyone else or read the mood of the room, it still felt intimate to me.
Don’t they always say that the characters you see on the TV in your own home start to feel like friends? Because even though there is no interaction, they are with you on good days and bad days, in the comfort of your own home. It creates a bond, even to fictional characters.
I had not expected the directness and the vulnerability of being, albeit virtually, so close to an actor’s live performance to be as mesmerising as it was. Watching the play on my iPad in my lap, with my earphones in, on my own sofa, knowing it was live and had a theatre audience of about 300 gave the same type of uniqueness, and even intimacy.
It’s easy to completely lose yourself into a story and into a performance when it is written and performed this well. It’s easy to forget it’s 3am at your end of the stream. It’s easy to forget you’re alone. It’s easy to forget what is happening all around the world because you are immersed in the moment. Even though it’s all virtual.
Because for those two nights I was transported into a story until then completely unknown to me and watching actors be at their most vulnerable with a WebCam in front of their face in their own home while their performance is broadcast to an audience scattered all around the world.
As I quietly admitted in my previous post: I will actually miss the intimacy of virtual home theatre once the world gets back to normal.
But then, I also cannot wait to be in the same room again with such brilliant, creative people who give their all to tell us incredible stories and to experience theatre live, in time and in place.