Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Theatre is the Language We Speak

Contributed by Maggie Kissinger

My theatre production professor said to the class one day, “We do theatre because there’s nothing else we can do. If there was, we’d do it.” He doesn’t mean we literally can’t do anything else, but that nothing else would make us get out of bed in the morning. I believe this is true. Can anyone in the theatre business imagine doing anything but theatre? But what’s most interesting about this statement is that if there was something else we could do, we’d do it. Theatre isn’t something people voluntarily sign themselves up for. Why would we? Theatre is a ‘a lot of work for very little pay’ kind of business. It’s a cruel, shove-you-in-the-dirt, sweaty, scruffy world. For an actor, the business is just malicious. It kicks aside and spits on talented people leaving them with salt in their wounds. For directors, the business is like a twisted personal trainer, pushing them into the ground and never giving them a break for water. For designers the business is a cruel parent with a tight wallet, only giving their child a dollar for lunch.

So why do we do it? Because theatre is the language we speak. We can’t help it. It’s how we communicate. Our communication was practiced and honed as we discovered the creative power within ourselves. That creativity that blossomed within us gave us more joy that anything else. It gave us a reason to smile, laugh, dance, read and learn. Without theatre, we’d have little reason to do any of those things.

The message we deliver through the language of theatre has the potential to affect and connect with others. It has the potential to lift their soul, to warm their hearts and stir their mind. This is what we live for. We work our asses off in auditions, in the workshop, in rehearsal to bring our joy and passion to the world and hopefully stir something in someone. We do it because is satiates our own soul and brings joy and excitement into the souls of others.

I was reminded of why I do theatre when I saw Venus in Fur. I was blown away by the performance. It was passionate, invigorating, frustrating, confusing and heart stopping. It lit a fire in my soul. I felt more alive by watching the performance. I thought to myself, “This is how I want to make people feel” And I thought, that’s why we do theatre, to make people feel alive, and make them think.

The play was excellent. It was superbly structured in inducing a thrilling and darkly sensual atmosphere. Hugh Dancy performs the role of Thomas, a frustrated playwright living just on the edge of life, hiding behind society-induced denial and fear of raw power and emotion. Nina Arianda is Vanda, the powerful temptress disguised as an actress aspiring for a role in Thomas’ play. 

The play starts off literally with a bang. A flash of lighting and a crack of thunder signal the removal of the satin purple cover over the set and Dancy grabs the audience, wasting no time to begin the show. Superb lighting and sound execution keeps the storm going throughout the whole show, guiding the metaphor it has against the story. Arianda and Dancy have powerful chemistry on stage. Together they create an erotic tension that leaves the audience rapt and stunned into silence. Simple activities, such as Thomas zipping up Vanda’s dress, or putting on her shoes, carry incredible, unexpected sensual weight and not a single movement was heard in the house.

Ives’ play didn’t suffocate the audience with all of the tension, however. The humor and wit that was deliciously brought out by Dancy and Arianda kept the play alive and surging. Arianda’s performance of Vanda was a brilliant display of energy and devotion to the balance of the erratic, ditzy, caricatured young actress and the elegant, smart, fierce woman living in 1870’s Germany she goes back and forth between. Dancy equals the intensity in his transformation from a composed, solid man who knows what he wants to the confused, aggressive and vigorous person succumbing to the power of lust and love he had hidden from.

This production was truly the definition of theater: giving us something that excites with its raw power, compels with its quiet strain, amuses with its sparkling wit, and stimulates us into action. And seeing it reminded me that we do this because we must. Because if we did anything else, the world would be a duller place.


Maggie Kissinger is going into her third year at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY studying Speech Communications and Drama. She hails from Cincinnati, OH but loves working here in New York City. This summer she’s been one of two Dramaturgy and Literary Management interns for Rising Sun Performance Company as well as the Social Media intern for the Innovative Theatre Foundation. She is the President of Spectrum Players, the on-campus play club. Past credits include dramaturg for Under Milk Wood at Glass Bandits Theatre Company and dramaturg and ASM for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Hofstra University.

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