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Consuming Creativity: Live Theatre

I have been lucky enough so far this summer to see two live shows in Stratford Ontario. Both Shakespeare productions Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear. Vastly different in content, but equally phenomenal in performance. I thought this week, to share my experience of them with you and hope that in doing so we can appreciate the qualities of live theatre together.

My mom and I made a habit of attending a Shakespeare play in Stratford after I graduated highschool. The english department at my highschool would take students each year to see a performance, usually one of the Shakespeares being studied that year, but there was some variance. There is a vastly different feel to a play from reading it in a classroom even aloud, to seeing it performed live on stage. This difference is key particularly for understanding and appreciating Shakespeare. And over the years we’ve created a bit of a ritual around it; the drive, a meal before the show, walking the streets of Stratford and spending an excessive amount of time in the theatre gift shop. I purchase a magnet each time we see a show.

This year we’ve been fortunate enough to see both a comedy and a tragedy. Much Ado About Nothing was the quintessential Shakespeare experience. From the set design to the performance, the interaction, and the audience. The atmosphere was the Globe Theatre, the audience as bawdy and entertained as in SHakespeare's day, and the actors' reaction to them was an absolute delight. Much Ado is the type of play that requires laughter and audience interaction to really make it. Having never actually read this particular play, it was a fantastic study in the ease of understanding Shakespearean language and phrasing when heard and seen performed as it was meant to be consumed. There is this idea in our culture today that we can consume things in many different forms, but the way in which things are meant to be consumed is the purest way of understanding art.

Slight tangent - this is why I have a difficult time listening to audiobooks of books I have not first read myself. A book is a contract between the author and the reader. Every author leaves something to be imagined in their work that only the reader can fill in. By listening to someone else tell me the story the author has written down means that I am getting their interpretation, their version, their understanding of the text, the narrative and the story, not my own. I recognize that this may sound like an argument against live theatre, but it is actually the reverse. This is an argument to consume art the way it was meant to be consumed. Live theatre is an incredible gift to consume. The energy that comes with a live performance radiates outward to all. It is in the experiencing of the art that we cultivate our understanding.

Moving onto the tragedy of King Lear we change gears. This performance was on another level in terms of calibre. You cannot do King Lear without KING LEAR. And the actor performing in Stratford this year is perfection. The secondary star of the show was the set itself. The simplicity of the Stratford sets, and yet, the complexity of movement and function of them is astounding. This particular set was pillars, levels, rolling panels and light strips all used to maximum effect. King Lear is much more elevated in terms of sophistication of language and metaphor, but in the live theatre experience it is digestible, understandable, and relatable. It is universal in terms of theme - the brilliance of Shakespeare - and it is made accessible through the experience of live performance.

Whether it’s Shakespeare or any other show, live theatre is an experience, and an accessible moment in the life of art that allows you to be involved in the process of creating in capacity of audience. A sacred bond between performer and spectator. It is an essential role to the art form. Without people to fill the seats the urgency, the energy, the vibrancy is lost. It is the perfect example of art being communal.

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