Bernard ShawThis past weekend, I attended two performances at the Shaw Festival, A Month In the Country by Brian Friel (based on Turgenev) and Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw. As I reflected back on the experience, it struck me that I try to understand myself through linguistic art forms–typically novels, but also poetry, film and music. Obviously, given what I do for a living, I’m fascinated by language in its many guises, but my need runs more deeply than fascination–it’s almost a primal urge to understand myself, to understand others, to understand each of us as we relate to one another. Language just happens to be the most natural way for me to explore these questions.

But to return to the topic at hand, I find theater both exhilarating and terrifying for its immediacy and truthfulness. A good performance draws the audience into the emotions being acted out (or actually felt) on stage. The immediacy comes from the live performance, there is no escaping whatever is being put forth for the audience’s consumption. It is there and if you are in the audience, it is virtually impossible to avoid the impact. As much as I love literature, it is possible to put the book down should my emotions become unbearable. Likewise with film, there always exists a certain distance between the audience and story, because the action has already occurred, the audience simply views a recording of those events. Not that I wish to diminish the value of a good film, since I too love being lost in the images, action and dialogue skillfully woven together by a good director, but it is a different experience. The truthfulness of a dramatic performance emerges when you recognize yourself in a character on stage. The realness of the experience makes the association (positive or painful) inescapable. Literature (dramatic or other) for me will always be of paramount importance because it demonstrates what we all have in common, and while I might not like what I see reflected in the words and actions of a character on stage, I know that if nothing else, I am not alone.

Courthouse Theater
The Court House Theater on Main St. in Niagara-on-the-Lake

The picture of Shaw’s statue and the Court House Theater are from Galen Frysinger’s web page, accessible here.