Intersection of Cultures
I have been working in lyric theatre for almost forty years, and to this day the singularly most important part of my day is entering the auditorium. Call it a frisson, a wake-up call, a reminder that I am entering not only a beautiful space, but a receptacle for shared discoveries, shared dreams and hopes, shared illumination via the creativity of the performing artists, their talent, their daring! The word “share” is key; theatre brings the community together in a space, usually curved, as our visionary Greek and Roman ancestors showed us, so that not only would everyone have an unrestricted view of the stage or playing area, or a brilliant acoustic, but also, and crucially, a view of the rest of the audience! Two theatres in one!
This gathering of souls thirsty for something outside themselves, sharing avunique and unrepeatable moment of potential magic, is a signature of our culture. Yes, let me say it, it is akin to a church, where everyone is part of the same family, where everyone is equal. It is a beautiful irony that the least expensive, least prestigious tickets in almost any theatre in the world are found at the very top, “in the Gods,” as we say in England, but that overwhelmingly, the best acoustics are there.
This receptacle that I describe can be, and often is, a work of art in itself; an architectural invitation to gather, and embrace its eventual public, a home for not only the devoted artists that perform, but also their collaborators backstage, themselves a flourishing but secret city of busy artisans. Architecture as a fundamental link to our heritage, often summoning the masses through the allure and mystery, the beauty of the building itself.
My personal experience as a performer conducting large masses of people in usually heroic tragedies can make me forget that a lone performer on a bare stage speaking or singing directly to the public, communicating a thought, an idea, a message, can be the most potent form of theatre there is. Sharing this experience in this cradle of humanity, as I like to think of it, is essential to understanding the secrets of human psychology; it is a key to unlocking our biases, our prejudices, making us richer, more understanding, and more curious about the world around us. Let us not forget that performance art can be provocative, and that theatres historically have embraced the necessity of challenging the audience, often shaking it awake to realise certain truths.
Human beings need theatre. We always have, and we always will, and I fervently believe that today we must seek the thrill, the danger, the emotion of this glorious gift bestowed upon us by history, and share this vital experience with our neighbours.