• Patrick McAndrew

If Everyone Took a Theatre Class

I love acting classes.  While they tend to be a lot of work, you leave them feeling connected to yourself as well as to your classmates.  We are often required to be vulnerable and expose our deeper selves in these classes in order to reach a certain level of trust, whether it be with the teacher or scene partner.

This isn’t only the case with acting classes, but also with most theatre classes.  If you are taking a class on the history of theatre or perhaps enrolled in a costume design class, both are discussing similar things at the root.  While the history of theatre may be discussing how Greek theatre has influenced those theatre forms that followed, and costume design may be discussing what people wore in the early 1800s, both classes are talking about the same root; people.  No matter what theatre class you may be taking, the topic is on people.

One can argue this is the case for many other classes.  Biology, history, and government, for example.  Classes like sociology and anthropology are specifically about people, studying human nature and society.  But with the exception of some talented teachers getting creative in their classes, it is rare that students actually have a bodily experience with what they are learning.

Theatre is all about the relationships created on stage.  If there are two characters performing in front of an audience and there is no connection present, the performance will fall flat, and the audience will be bored, counting the hours until the play is over.  But when the relationships are powerful and make the audience feel something, that’s where the magic happens.  And while theatre tends to dramatize real life to an extent, it is often reflective of our own world.

It takes a lot of work to develop these relationships onstage.  While the actors usually have their own, private lives outside of the play, they must come together to form a realistic relationship for two hours in front of an audience.  What a crazy idea! Often two strangers (though not always strangers), over the course of a rehearsal period, must portray that they are mother and son in a believable fashion.

When you take a step back and realize the task at hand, we see that it is no easy task.  We all play as children and theatre is very much a development of play (hence why we call it a play).  As we get older though, many of us lose this instinct to play, so much so that when we go see a play we expect it to be as believable as possible, or else it may not be entertaining.  Even if seeing something that is ludicrous and absurd, it must be believable in the moment or else we won’t enjoy it.

All of this can seem like a magic trick.  So, what are the secret ingredients involved when theatre really works: empathy, communication, listening, and presence.  These skillsets are highly trained when studying the theatrical arts.  One must cultivate these skillsets in order to produce effective theatre.  One must cultivate these skillsets to either be a successful actor or producer or designer or director.

When studying human nature, it’s important to remember that humans are not perfect.  I am often confused as to why some actors can be so cruel, self-centered, and demanding.  “But they are learning how to be empathetic!!  They are learning how to understand other people,” I think to myself.  But, humans are not perfect.  What good is knowledge if you don’t turn that knowledge into action?  And, unfortunately, many of us don’t turn knowledge into action.

With all that said, if everyone took even just one theatre class, I am confident the world would be a much better place.  There are many amazingly kind, generous, loving people who have never taken a theatre class who are just fine; I’m not worried about those people.  But there are a handful of people in our society who can greatly benefit from developing their empathy, communication, listening, and presence.  All they would need to do is take a class and implement what they learn into their daily lives.  Easier said than done, of course, but it’s something we should think about critically.

I have written before that theatre should be a required course in schools.  The skillsets learned in theatre are incredibly applicable to almost any industry because, no matter where you end up working or what you end up doing, you will more than likely be working with people.  Theatre teaches us how to understand and interact with our fellow human beings.  And the more we understand one another, the less problems we will have in our world.

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