Thursday, November 13, 2008

Theatre: A Mirror and a Window

Theatre is one of only a few art forms through which people view other people in real space and real time. Because of this, audiences can see an imitation of real life – whether realistic or not – when they attend a theatrical performance.

Two functions of art – and therefore, theatre – are to serve as a Mirror and a Window. Theatre as a Mirror reflects our own lives back at us; theatre as a Window allows us to view other people's lives.

For my own tastes, I prefer theatre that allows me to view the lives of other people and gain some understanding of what they feel, how they behave and who they are. Plays like Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun or Arthur Miller's The Crucible -- which present aspects of the lives of contemporary women, African Americans and people who lived during the paranoia of the Salem Witch Trials, respectively -- interest me because they tell stories of lives that aren't my own. This type of theatre experience expands my understanding of the world.

I fully understand the function of theatre as a Mirror. Far too many people in different demographic groups are starved for images and representations of themselves. When a person does not see his or her own life reflected in popular culture, it's possible for that person to think (incorrectly) his or her experiences aren't worthy of being shared with others. The cathartic effect of being able to connect 100 percent with what one sees onstage is very important.

However, theatre as a Window offers so much more possibility to my imagination, growth and understanding of the world. It may astonish me, confound me, anger me, confuse me or delight me, but theatre that presents viewpoints that are not my own ultimately enriches me.

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