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Why Bother Going to Live Theater?

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard someone say the phrase, “the world is getting smaller.” Apps like Periscope, Meerkat, and Facebook Live have been described as the closest thing to teleportation that we have in modern society. We can stream tv and movies with devices that fit in our pockets or purses, and news from around the world is quite literally at our fingertips.

So why bother going to live theater?

Comedian Louis CK perhaps said it best during an interview with Conan O’Brian:

You know, I think [cell phones] are toxic, especially for kids… They don’t look at people when they talk to them, they don’t build the empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it’s because they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, “you’re fat,” and they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, “ooh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that,” but they gotta start with doing the mean thing. But when they write, “you’re fat” [gesturing typing with his thumbs], then they just go, “mmm, that was fun, I liked that.” You need to build the ability to just be yourself and not be doing something, that’s what the phones are taking away. It’s the ability to just sit there, like this. That’s just being a person.

[Note: I wasn’t sure if I should include the link to the above quote, so before I give you the link: If you’re unfamiliar with Louis CK’s comedy, it can be very insightful, but simultaneously crude at times, so if you are someone who might be bothered by his crassness, consider yourself warned before clicking on this link.]

Screens create distance. Beyond that, movies and television direct our gaze, tell us exactly where to look, and don’t give us a choice about where our focus goes. Consider this: What spaces exist where you, willingly or not, turn off your phone (or set it to silent) and sit for an extended period of time and have a collective experience with another group of people in real time? My guess is that for most people, it’s when you’re at the theater and when you’re in a house of worship. In short, places where great stories are told.

Maybe you’ve seen people go through myriad emotions on screen, but I guarantee you that the experience is different when a person is taking an emotional journey in the same room where you are. You’re seeing that kid’s face scrunch up and you feel the effects in the pit of your stomach, too.

Theater might be the only place where you set your devices aside and allow yourself to be swept away by something bigger than yourself. And while there are plenty of other activities to do, it seems to me that Newton’s First Law applies here: An object at rest stays at rest. I know as much as anyone that the gravitational pull of my couch seems greater than any other piece of furniture I own. It’s easy, convenient even, to stay at home and experience the world through social media or scroll through the new releases on Netflix. But do yourself a favor and get out of the house, go to the theater, and move and be moved.

And speaking of being a part of something bigger than yourself, when you go to the theater, you are supporting the local Minnesota economy. Creative Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts recently released a study on the economic impact of the arts and artists in our state. It showed, among other things, that audiences alone contribute $563.5 million to Minnesota’s economy.  [more on Creative MN 2017 next time!]

From the Creative MN 2017 Survey

So do it to keep your money in your community rather than sending it to out of state movie and TV producers. Or do it to get off your couch. Or do it to practice building empathy. But when you support local live theatre like Park Square, you’ll see that the world isn’t getting smaller, and you don’t need a device, an app, or even a transporter room to go on a journey.

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