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Why It Matters

by:  Lizzy Benway at 08/04/2016

“I feel found.”

Eugene Lee at a student matinee talk-back

The statement feels odd. It’s heavy and profound, defined by an understanding that stretches beyond the typical awareness of a teenager. But she said it. With a vibrant smile on her face and eyes focused on the stage, this Boston high school student praised the performance with applause and a statement that pried my mind wide open. I don’t know who she is. I didn’t get her name or her school, but as she stood there, clapping and praising the performance of Mr. Eugene Lee in August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned, I knew my understanding of theatre was forever changed.

It’s hard to explain the value of theatre. It’s an intangible experience, one that can sit heavy on your mind or drift away as a forgotten thought. It can break your heart or entertain you with a few laughs; it can tell tales of some of the most amazing, unknown individuals, or reveal a little-known truth of some of the most famous figures of history. But whatever it does, the experience is unique to you.

Theatre doesn’t exist just to be an aesthetic experience. It exists to connect... It is in these moments, both remarkable and terrifying, when we learn something more about ourselves.

I’m young. But at 24, I’ve spent about half of my life involved in theatre. I’ve directed musicals, costumed absurd plays, painted detailed sets, and operated a fly rail (which I had no business doing as I am the kluziest person alive). But no single moment is as clear to me or means as much to me as that moment in March. When this student, this young girl who has years ahead of her to discover who she is and to find her voice, felt so connected to a performance, grounded in the world of August Wilson and his experiences, it all made sense. Theatre isn’t about the beautiful costumes that take weeks to create, or the incredible lighting that sets the mood. It’s not about the awe-inspiring voices we hear, or the orchestra that plays so beautifully you get chills.

Well, it is, but that’s not the purpose. Theatre doesn’t exist just to be an aesthetic experience. It exists to connect. To create a moment in the hazy common ground amongst designers and patrons and actors in which we discover. In this spectacular moment, we are challenged to question our perspective or thoughts, to examine what we feel we know as truth. It is in these moments, both remarkable and terrifying, when we learn something more about ourselves. That is the value of theatre. The intangible intersection of story and art and thought in which a new part of ourselves is revealed. In these moments, we are found. 

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