Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Why Theatre Prompt

So I have been in residence as a professional playwright for Literary Arts as part of their Writers in the Schools program. In simpler terms, I am a WITS teacher. For fifteen weeks at Grant High School - once a week - I have taught playwriting to freshmen in what's called the Access Program - sort of a Talented and Gifted class...and also to third year theatre students...and also to seniors in a creative writing English class.

Tonight, students from various Grant classes (mine and those of other WITS teachers) will have the opportunity to share their work at an open mic "slam" - at Fleur de Lis Bakery and Cafe at 3930 NE Hancock - 7:00p. part of this annual event, the writers in residence are asked to share a piece of their own. In past years, I have chosen monologues from Rubber 'n' Glue, The Vespiary, and Darkstep and Dawning. This year - without anything "high school appropriate" to share, I decided on something more fun. On my final day just this past Tuesday, I asked the students to rant on paper about "Why theatre?" I gave them nothing else. That single prompt. I told them that from their rants, I would take inspiration and write a monologue addressing that question. I took their ideas - some direct quotes - and certainly their passion. And I gave myself only one hour to write.

Here is the monologue - which I will publicly read this evening. Knowing that most of this was influenced by the young may add a sparkle to the day of those who occasionally fall into "theatre depression."

Why Theatre?
a monologue by
Matthew B. Zrebski
inspired by the rantings of
students at Grant High Shool in WITS classes
All Rights Reserved 2008

Why theatre? Why theatre?

Wha - what kind of question--? Are you trying to make my blood--? I -I -I mean did someone drop you on your--? Okay, okay, hold up! This is like one of those I-have-a-real-job-why-don't-you?-why-spend-time-doing-all-that-artsy-fartsy-no-one-cares conversations, right? Is that it? You think no one cares? No one--?

Let me tell you - people care. They care so much that theatre is like some addictive disease - like a drug - but a love drug - one with no end - that's how much they care. But unlike money and created "black and white" truths and antiquated paradigms that cage and sink you into coma-like reality TV show trances - theatre is present. Present. It's in the "now". It gets in your face in the moment. No separation. No big screens and 3-D glasses and ear buds and shuffling your play list! It's a white room filled with containers of colored paint. And when that color starts to's raw energy out to you back to the stage. Thoughts - straight to you and back. Feelings - slamming at you and back. Back and forth- a rhythmic dance between artists and the audience - a ritual - one that goes back to the caves and campfires and hunts and the many, many Gods. That's why theatre.

Why theatre? Why not?

Maybe because it can't be genetically modified and produced in twenty-seven different sweat shops. Maybe because it's the virgin child of silent thought. The knot between the ribbons of emotion and voice. Maybe because it is a Teleporter from anywhere to anywhere - another person's shoes to wear. Or maybe because in that small bite fed to us in a performance, we can attempt to dissect and determine something for ourselves. Or more simply, maybe people want to make believe. To be four again. The magic. The suspension. Imagination. The stillness coming to life. The thrill of a single spotlight. Not the rut - but the possibilities. Anything is possible. No, those aren't ropes and cardboard clouds - that man is flying. Don't we all need to fly?

Why theatre?

You mean because there are movies and television - why theatre? Because film and television can perfect the performance - gloss the delivery - stamp into forever and perfect the product? Well, first let's get real, tons of movies suck! Commerce and stars and red carpets and who are you wearing...? But that aside - and I love movies too - brilliant art form - but does it replace - ? Are you suggesting it should--? That's been the suggestion since talkies started - but theatre is still here! Perhaps less "perfect" - less " glossed" - but you know what? There's more "real" there. People are imperfect - people are flawed - people are not glossed over with soaring soundtracks and CGI and line-line-joke comedy and run-in-slow-motion-on-the-beach-and-kiss endings. Back to basics - that's why theatre - it may be nothing but one person standing in front of you, telling a story - basic, pure, and resonant.

And this is where you accuse me of elitism and trying to assert my views onto your experience of life. But what are you experiencing? Do we experience anything in this day to day numbing up- the-down-escalator daily assault of zombified reality? Do we? I don't know. And humans need to experience. That catharsis that comes from live, crackling communion with storytellers. The walls expanding just a bit - different points of view - an attempt at some semblance of universal awareness - so that in those private moments in the darkest places, you know we are not alone.


I am not alone.


There will be no final black out. There will be no final curtain. There will be no final playbill left to whither and rot and flake away into some wind just because you ask me why theatre? It is mine - it is yours - it is his and hers - and you may not know it yet, but that doesn't make it not true. So I'm telling you.

Theatre will never die.

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