I, like most people I know, am incredibly busy. Dealing with projects, small and large, the day job, wives, husbands, kids, family, friends and all manner of distraction can easily consume all of your time. And taking time to go see a show can get pushed way down on the priority list.
The other day I got an email from a friend (an actor who I just directed off-Broadway) who absolutely gushed about seeing a new play that, to quote him, was the best thing he’s seen in years and urged, no insisted, that I go see it. It was a particular word that he used to describe the effect that the play had on him that caught my attention…he said that when he walked out the theater he felt inspired. That the play, and the performances in particular, inspired him and made him feel excited to be an actor and a part of that artistic community.
Now it just so happens that I am very familiar with this particular play. It’s a new play on Broadway that has gotten scads of coverage in both the press and the trades. I know the work of the playwright, I know the work of the director and I very familiar with the actors, all of whom are terrific. I had even read the play. But, all of that said, and here comes the big confession, I hadn’t yet actually seen it.
It got me thinking and made me realize that even though I’m deeply involved in my own projects, I need to make the time to go out and experience the work of others. Too many people I know, myself on the top of the list, don’t get out enough to see other shows. I know it can be expensive proposition but generally it’s more about making and taking the time. But one must.
Exposing yourself to theater of all ilk is nothing but productive for those of us who create theater. Don’t take expectations into a show, just go and experience what that production has to offer. But don’t let the show completely wash over you. Be aware of production aspects, especially ones that are in the area of your interest. I remember when I once saw a show where, as the actors moved across the stage, it seemed that they got colder. And the audience felt it. Afterwards, I spoke to the lighting designer and he explained how he had created sections of the stage with gels on just those lights so as to take out the reds. It was a simple effect that created an almost physical affect for the audience and supported the acting in a strong but almost indiscernible way. You can learn about techniques in a book but when you see them in a show, you understand them.
I once had an acquaintance ask me if acting in a theater diminished the enjoyment of seeing other actors on stage as an audience member. The short answer is no…understanding the craft of acting can make one appreciate a great performance even more. But it does change things for you. It changes things because you see the production from a more “dimensioned” perspective. And that, in my opinion, is a pretty cool thing. And because of it, I feel like I get more than most of the audience from any show I see.
If you live in an urban city like New York or Los Angeles (where, by the way, I hear from my “angeleno” friends and connections, theater is BOOMING) or Chicago or Dallas or San Francisco then there really is no excuse. If you’re stuck in a small town and share the desire to produce, act, direct, design or manage theater, then it’s almost even more of a reason. It will be catalyzing. Just going and seeing theater done is what drove each and everyone of us who are doing it now, professionally or otherwise, to do our first show. And it really doesn’t matter if it’s Broadway or a community production at the local Elk’s Lodge. Seeing it done “normalizes” the process, reconnects us to the passion of live theater and helps to reignite the creative fire that can result in prodding you to actually get involved in a production. Seeing a show gives back to our artistic community and, more selfishly, can re-energize ourselves as individual artists. And it can be a pretty damn pleasant way to spend an evening.
Theater is rich and thriving in every city of size so get your ass out and catch a show. Take the next ten minutes that you would’ve spent surfing the web and find a show, any show, and book a ticket. Do it now and find some inspiration…
p.s. My actor friend went out on an audition for a Neil Simon play and promptly booked a leading role. And I just bought a ticket to both shows!