AJ Logo an ARTSJOURNAL weblog | ArtsJournal Home | AJ Blog Central

« Reviews that fuel community dialogue? | Main | Art in the American Outback: News Roundup »

July 12, 2007

Theater and a sense of home

Bridgette Redman

Perhaps one of the reasons the Flyover blog mission resonated with me so much is because theater has become so integrally connected with place in my mind.

Yes, theater is about art. I might argue, though, that it is more essentially about connection. While the primary connection may be between people, a strong tie exists between theater and place.

When people ask me, I say that my home is Lansing. This is despite the fact that I spent half my life in Westland. Westland is where I was born (well, OK, Garden City, but close enough), where I was raised, and where I met my husband. It's also where both my family and my husband's family lives still. Yet, even when I go back it is as a visitor and I no longer even think of it as "coming home."

The reasons for this are very much tied up in theater. Theater is what makes Lansing more than just a geographical place where I reside. It is what makes it home. It is the place where wherever I go, I'm going to run into someone I know despite being in a town of more than 100,000.

I do try to see theater when I travel and one of the things that I've discovered is that theater has a different flavor wherever I go--even when the same shows are being done. Much of that flavor comes from the audience and what the audience is giving back to the show. Anyone who has gone to see the same show multiple times will attest to the fact that every performance is different no matter how much the performers try to make it the same. It's different because each audience is different.

So it isn't surprising when communities become possessive about their theater--referring to it with possessive pronouns even when all the production efforts are done by individuals with little to no outside support. It's because the theater is part of what has turned their community from political boundaries on a map to a home where there is a shared memory of connecting with other individuals about what is important to them on a very local level.

Posted by Bridgette Redman at July 12, 2007 4:22 PM


Bridgette, your last paragraph really resonates with me. I've been involved in mainly alternative theatre for 35 years (15 as a director). I have lived in a small coastal community on the Far South Coast of NSW, Australia, for the last few years and the impact of our shows within our community has been pervasive. Since arriving around 110 locals (in a community of 1200) have been actively involved in shows/workshops that span from my shows to local performance nights at the Commuity Hall of which I am secretary. The follow on from this activity is that more and more people are less fearful about having a go. Everybody wins through this sharing of imagination and creativty. People compliment each other in the street -- a new experience for many. And it's not just theatre, but across the performance board. People are following (flowering?) their art.

For me this is the best kind of community exchange, or amateurism in the pure sense of the word. It is not a fee based service. We do it for fun.

And yes, performances are molded by their surrounds. A two season production of Equus last year got raptuous feedback which included people who had seen premiers in London, New York Sydney Perth Melbourne etc and they claimed ours was better. And why dont we tour it. What they failed to realise was that it was site specific - our local, stable-like hall was an equally important character in the show, as were they. Theatre is not a reel of film to be tossed in the boot (trunk) of a car and shown anywhere. They got the show they deserved. For me that was the message, which I believe our audience finally 'got'.

Our next show is a series of ten minute plays occurring simultaneously in and around a house, with the audience doing a round robin between them. We hope to tour this to other houses & properties around the region.

Thank you Bridgette for writing the article and providing me with an opportunity to write my thoughts.

Posted by: howard stanley at July 16, 2007 3:07 PM

This is the most wrong-headed article on the theatre I have ever read. A theatre possessed is a theatre in chains. It becomes a theatre of psychobabble that genericizes the human experience for the comfort of the stake-holders ... societally-approved platitudes mutualized before an audience of the self-absorbed. Theatre must inspire, awe, enrage, excoriate, not pander to the smugness of your fellow theatre members.

Posted by: george mcnamara at July 16, 2007 4:00 PM