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The World? A Stage.

Bridging emotional parallels between Europe and America.


As I write this, I'm sitting in the lobby of the Shakespeare Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. I'm here in Shakespeare's hometown for a production of one of my plays, Eric LaRue, which is part of the Royal Shakespeare's New Play Festival. My play, along with another short play called Elective Affinities by David Adjmi, have been sewn together in a show titled, Postcards from America. Postcards, as it's affectionately called here, is meant to highlight some of the topics American playwrights are interested in discussing (David's play is about a New York woman's belief that torture for political reasons is worthwhile, and my own play regards the aftermath of a school shooting and a mother's attempt at understanding her own son's violence). The director of both, associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Dominic Cooke, hopes to bridge emotional parallels between Europe and America and show how these commonalities might teach us ways to help one another through trying times.

This is a lofty goal for any artistic endeavor, but one that I think uniquely suits live theatre. Eric LaRue could be perceived as an unusual emotional fit for audiences in the UK, where gun violence is often perceived as an 'American thing.' Just a few days after the production opened, however, a news report appeared on the television: a school bully slashed a young teenager from South Yorkshire in the face with the blade from a pencil sharpener. The injured teenager needed 30 stitches to close two long vertical cuts that extended from her brow to chin. Outraged parents, shaken administrators and frightened high school students filled the airwaves, proving that tragedy does not shelter itself in one community, nor does it keep itself from crossing borders. Emotional parallels within art often lead to direct parallels, which reveals why live theatre can be so very important. Watching actual people struggle with answers, test theories, adjust conversational tactics and react with face and body give the audience a way to imagine their own answers, theories, tactics and reactions. Similar to how one learns about behavior through daily human interaction, one may see variances of behavior though the process of watching theatre. It's often said that the best theatre creates a direct relationship between audience and performer. This 'behavior observation' is what I believe is at the core of the relationship. An audience's ability to wholly see the performer helps give the story physical and emotional truth, therefore causing the need for the audience to react with minds and hearts.

I recently had this sort of reaction while watching a production of As You Like It at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The story, one of cross-dressing for reasons of escape and the return to original dress for reasons of love, was beautifully acted and had a wonderful spare quality to both performance and production, which also found its way into the characters' relationships. I watched as the lovers, Rosalind and Orlando, spoke both in verse and directly to the audience, creating a theatrical experience. Yet beyond the theatrical experience (or should I say underneath) were basic human emotions. The two characters carried on as flirtatious lovers do--they joked with each other, they avoided delicate situations, and they slowly began to fall in love. Often in the past while watching Shakespeare, I found myself focused on Shakespeare's words and the actors stretching to make these words understood. With this truly human production, nothing was stretched or strained. I was emotionally engaged and watched as two 'regular' people found each other, feeling truth and depth radiate from the stage.

To feel this truth, this emotional link, is what powerful, connective theatre has the transforming ability to do. Letting oneself open up to the live expression of another is a sharing experience and one that is only achieved when both performers and audience bond through trust. Emotional resonance with current themes or emotional ties to internal feelings help bridge human experiences and create connections among us all. Theatre is the one place where we can hear and see these emotions not merely discussed, but felt. As I watched Rosalind react to her own wedding in As You Like It or felt the depth of sadness within the character of the mother in my own play, I recalled specific and powerful emotions. This recollection creates transformation, a change that aids in our own search for what it means to be human.

Published: December 01, 2005
Issue: Holiday 2005