This series of essays originally appeared in theatre programs for the 1998-99 season of Theatre & Company, Kitchener, Ontario, where author Stuart Scadron-Wattles was the producing artistic director.
T&Co was in many ways a sister company to PT. I was very struck by these ideas at the time, and they've been on my mind again recently. Stuart's given me permission to reproduce them here. This is the second.
Five Short Essays on Necessary Theatre:
by Stuart Scadron-Wattles
In my last article, I suggested that when we go to the theatre, we ask a probing question: What makes this piece of theatre necessary? By “necessary,” I do not mean to imply “important.” At the time he was writing and producing, no one really knew how important Shakespeare would become.
A Necessary piece of theatre can appear quite trivial on the surface. Its subject matter may not be original, it may be the result of an overproduced script, it may deal with the most shallow of topics. What makes it Necessary is its process and its effect.
Necessary theatre employs the imagination of both theatre artists and audience to create a third world, a place where the imagination has free rein. In this place the audience members sense that anything could happen; the theatre artists sense that they can take the audience anywhere.
Wherever this participative and permissive imagination occurs, we as an audience are able to release our selves. In some measure we let go of the time/space world in which we find ourselves and enter another one. In the simplest terms, we get involved with the performance to such a degree that we forget our selves. In this state, we are not even spectators. We are no longer aware of the components of the set, or the effect of the lighting, or the affecting monologue. These elements have combined with our imaginations to the point that we have entered into the work itself.
In so doing, we leave behind our own world with its disappointments and triumphs, its sense of well-being conferred or not. For better or for worse, we enter the world before us. There are pieces of our selves here and there, and we have differing responses to the world we have entered, but-- having entered it, we have left behind that socially-acceptable, assembled self who parked the car and picked up the tickets. In the freedom of the imaginative play of Necessary Theatre, our self is in many parts. We identify with the characters; there may be no one who is exactly me, but parts of me and my world are recognizable. New connections and correspondences emerge.
Actors know when art and imagination have connected in performance; we can feel the freedom you give us, the unequivocable permission to take you where we need to go. Good actors prepare for such an eventuality. We know that it will not be present every night-- audiences vary widely-- but we also know that if we are not ready, we will not be able to rise to the challenge of that free and open stage which comes with Necessary Theatre.
After the piece is done, we as audience come back to our selves individually. Our passions, our laughter, our outrage, our sense of balance... all come back to us, and we reassemble our selves. This is our own creative act, because as they are returned to us, those parts of our selves are not in the same order in which they left us. In one sense, our selves are recreated. Whatever staleness our lives contained is gone in those moments; it is as though some parts of us have gone through a refreshing cleansing. Some areas of our lives tingle-- with hope, or new awareness. Some are satisfied, the appetite met with good nutrition. We make new connections between parts of our selves, our memories. We exit into the surrounding city with a different way of seeing, with our sensibilities sharp.
And we remember-- this is what recreation means.