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 fifth.
Five Short Essays on Necessary Theatre:
by Stuart Scadron-Wattles
Necessary Theatre recognizes that there must be community in order for there to be theatre. One task of the theatre is thus to find community. Finding existing community seems quite simple. Where are people gathering? Around what symbols or commonly held values? Where are people sharing goals, seeking vision? Is there some experience which the theatre could give to this found community?
Obligatory theatres tend to ask the above as market research questions, forgetting that these questions will end up defining what and how the theatre is, not just how it is marketed. A theatre must adopt a community or series of communities, and vice-versa. Theatre is not a commodity sold to a public; it is an event centered in community. Necessary Theatre and surrounding community affect one another.
Necessary Theatre goes beyond simply finding existing community however, it also forms community in performance. This can happen whenever the theatre artists are able to propose a language or set of symbols around which their audience can gather and with which both audience and artists can play. It is exciting to sit in a performance where the audience suddenly “gets” something. As understanding grows in hearts through the theatre, something takes place. The group laughs together, becomes quiet together, and becomes corporately alert, intent on sharing the experience. The artists at the performance seem to have more freedom to create.
At its best, this shared experience encompasses people of different backgrounds, cultures, and understandings, through its universal implications. The theatrical experience might be all that could possibly be held in common by a particular audience. Skillful theatre artists who present three-dimensional work experience this formation of community more often, because the work they present is simultaneously accessible to more people.
This is the means by which Necessary Theatre is able to take us to new perspectives, despite our entrenched mundane existences. We see differently, not only because of the art, but because of the experience of this art is shared with many others. We are enabled to go beyond ourselves to that which we did not know or were even able to conceive.
Obligatory Theatre can only tell us what we already know; it can only repeat what we have seen and experienced before. This is why Obligatory Theatre seeks to provide better technical effects (e.g., falling chandeliers) or more attractive people (e.g., film/television stars): since it can only repeat, it seeks to do so in an improved way.
Necessary Theatre does not seek to innovate for the sake of innovation; it has no need to do so. Instead, it seeks community. It forms community. And in its very process, it celebrates community.