Every Stage’s a World
The lights fade out and a man dressed for the wrong era runs out in front of you and begins to talk. For just a moment, you can still feel yourself holding on to reality and his presence and demeanor seem off — almost as if they could belong in the valley of the uncanny: almost normal, almost human, but not quite. It is a matter of seconds before the sensation fades and you get lost in his conversation, or maybe his song.
Spotlights beam and dancers move as if each step is as natural to them as walking. For two hours you sit enraptured by a performance, held at bay by an invisible fourth wall, almost feeling like it is all too beautiful to be real and that this must be on a screen. Slowly, though, you remember that those actors are only a matter of feet away, almost close enough to touch.
It almost feels wrong, that sets and singers and costumes so perfect can still be real. But they are. As you sit and notice each stitch pinning down a sequin on Glinda’s blue gown, or the exact timing of the walls falling so nothing actually goes amiss in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” or the set that allows a rope to be Captain Hook’s boat as easily as it is a doorway, there is a wonder that awakens in your heart. Every pearl, every dash of blush, every lowering of the lights, every angle of a set piece, every sole of a shoe, every hair on a wig, every smile or quirk or movement on the stage before you weren’t just “planned”: it took hours of human effort and devotion.
And look how worthwhile it was. For two hours, within the confines of a single theater with a single stage, you are transported. Those who worked to make this piece of art before you did not rely on your imagination like books do and they can’t fix any mistakes in post-production like in film. Every night, time and again, you see genuine human creativity, passion and dedication to perfection, until entire worlds come to life before you.
As I sit there amazed, having happily spent enough money on this performance to buy me several movies tickets, all I can feel is pure awe. Contrary to what Shakespeare once said, I do not believe that “all the world’s a stage,” but rather, all stages are a microcosm of the world. The nature of art is that it tries to be reflective and emblematic of the human experience. That is why we are drawn to good literature, films, performances or paintings — because we feel that they have effectively represented our world, helped us view our own reality in a new light, or have allowed us to feel empathy for the personal trials and triumphs of our lives. Theater does this in an incredibly acute way by allowing us to literally watch others live out one of these little worlds live before our eyes.
For me, going to the theater is a deeply religious experience for this very reason. When I look at that stage and am consistently shocked and amazed by the thought and consideration that went into every little aspect and detail to present this miniature world before me, I cannot help but extrapolate outwards. This tiny world has had so much love and brilliance imbued into it in order for every audience to have a fully immersive and exceptional experience. But this is only a small version of the world, how much detail and love and consideration had to go into making the real world as beautiful and complex as it is?
If I can see the genius behind the use of hidden magnets to do a quick change in order to turn Sleeping Beauty’s gown from blue to pink as she waltzes around the stage, how can I turn a blind eye to the brilliance behind the Krebs Cycle that allows our body to function on a microscopic level? How do I ignore the balance of the world as leaves fall off trees in order to save water for the trunk and not get too weighted down as they freeze in the winter, while I notice the smooth doll house folding of a set that is secure enough to hold a whole cast safely as it transitions? How can I sit and wonder at the beautiful organism that is a perfectly performed play and pretend something even more awe-inspiring isn’t happening every time a baby progresses into a new developmental stage and can now recognize its mother? If I can see the source of the creativity in front of me when I’ve paid $50 to sit in an audience for two hours, how can I ignore God in the world that He placed me in Himself?
Often, when people wonder why I am well near obsessed with theatre, I realize they have never viewed the experience the way I have. At the very heart of Torah Umadda is the idea that the world around us is a wonderful place and that it is our job to imbue it with its spiritual potential. When I step in a theater the capacity for godliness practically screams at me, begging me to notice and to bring it beyond the walls of the atrium out into the players that fill the world.
Photo Credit: PxHere