Theatre is like church: we gather to bear witness


hen I think about theatre, I think about church. It’s been a hot minute since I went to church, but reflecting on the last 14 months of confinement I am reminded that theatre operates as a place of sanctuary.

It is the primal act or ritual of coming together in a room – to bear witness, absorb, process and hopefully be nourished by some touched and possibly aggrieved playwright who is trying to right the wrongs of this unfair and complex world with a substantial amount of rewrites and toil. Resulting in a story.

I used to use up all my freebie tickets to writers’ nights at the Royal Court in London. Free theatre? I mean, it’s like free food. I knew how fortunate I was to be granted such access to great stories – and many from my own peers. But thinking about it now on the bounce back, I realise more about my connection to the buildings themselves – the way they’ve operated as kind of ecosystem where serendipitous encounters become anything but. Because going there you know deep down inside that you’ll bump into someone you worked with on that play, that time, with that director and that designer …

As we tentatively return, more considerate and aware of each other’s space and bodies, I wonder what kind of church will await us. An experience that is more fragile, more essential? Perhaps it will be stripped of the unnecessary ego that can follow you around a press night as you negotiate the room and have three or four or 10 half-baked conversations with people you kinda know.

As in church, you are gathered to share in a story. So what kind of stories await us? Which ones are relevant now and which aren’t? Who’s making those decisions? How are they gauging them? As a member of said church, sometimes I’ve sat to bear witness, sometimes I wrote the parable itself and sometimes I played the priest.

I’d often sit with a director and say: we only need the actors and their bodies and their voices and their emotions and their sweat. The mere act of these storytellers getting on stage is in itself an event. We don’t need clunky sets – we’re not in ancient Greece, or in space or at sea. That’s all pretend. What’s real is these theatres’ great architecture. The stiffness you get from a badly designed seat. The ritual or ceremony that is unfolding onstage. The room full of fellow believers. That’s why I look forward to hitting church again soon.




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