“…and he felt no remorse what so ever!” is what I overheard a student remarking last week as he and his classmates exited the theatre after attending SIA’s production of Hamlet. I imagine his remark was in reference to Claudius’ character. That kind of observation, comparison and conversation is why theatre is important. Theatre helps us understand human motivation and psychology, it teaches us to look inward at ourselves and identify with characters that mirror or challenge our values and simultaneously entertains audiences.
I believe that it is harder than ever to successfully capture today’s theatre audience, but I also believe that today’s audience is better equipped to be challenged and moved by the power of theatre. Here’s why: I often observe parents or teachers remarking that kids today are more technologically inclined than ever, that they’ve been operating computers and iPhones since before they could talk. That’s why the experience of attending a live show is thrilling. It’s brand new and it’s happening in real time, it’s “reality entertainment” at it’s best…it doesn’t get more real than actors performing right before your eyes. Unfortunately I think we underestimate the transient power of theatre and assume that kids today don’t understand or can’t appreciate or can’t grasp the complexity of theatre let alone Shakespeare’s work. I’m 24 and I’m a theatre graduate and I’m not sure that I’ll ever fully understand Shakespeare, but I know how it makes me feel, and isn’t that the point? To be able to experience something that sparks an insightful conversation? Something that reminds us of our own humanity?
I’m writing this morning from our offices at Shakespeare in Action, a week after overhearing that student’s reaction to Hamlet…I can still see the expression on that student’s face, smiling at his friend, something about Claudius’ character resonated with him and made him contemplate the themes of remorse and consequence. I was ushering that afternoon and he thanked me on his way out, “This was really good,” he said, “Thank you so much!” And in that moment, I was humbly reminded of how thankful I am for that thing called theatre magic. It’s real. Get out to a theatre and experience it for yourself and whatever you do, don’t fret about whether you ‘get’ it or not.