the authenticity of theatre

I just had the privilege of seeing The More Loving One at the New York International Fringe Festival, a new comedy-drama about two couples in their twenties facing moments of decision, points of minor (and some more major) crisis.  It was moving, hilarious, and a tribute to what blackbox theatre can be.

But more rewarding still was the discussion with my father that followed — his question when he walked out was whether the play, or theatre in general, is “authentic”, by which he basically meant whether it is relevant to lived experience.  We ended up having a rather heated discussion, (probably) mostly because I am an amateur philosopher and devotee of semantic game-playing and feel strangely fulfilled (?) by delving as deeply as possible into the very questionable, nearly erasable nature of Truth and Meaning, usually to the point of Nihilism, at which juncture one can have the catharsis of re-emerging into the real world.

Is theatre relevant to the real world?  If life is art, or even something sort of close to it, then of course the lived experience of attending the play, or acting in it, is of course “authentic”.  Are the situations in a play “truth”?  No, not on a philosophy-of-language-truth-evaluable-statements level, not really, and no, not on a this-is-totally-real-time-and-the-events-of-this-play-are transpiring-in-the-quote-unquote-real-world, not really.  But I think that the emotions, the humanist elements of any dramatic interaction, are entirely “authentic”.  Not everyone will relate to them in the same way — for example, the struggles of the characters in their mid-twenties in The More Loving One might not speak as directly to my father as they do to me, newly 21 and thinking constantly about what it means to be an artist and a woman and a one half of a relationship.

But this quote from Preston Martin, one of the four actors in the play, in response to the question “Why theatre?” speaks exactly to what I think is the crux of theatre’s authenticity for the human experience:

“Vulnerability. Human vulnerability is a gift that we constantly try to hide, and the theater is the place we go to watch that vulnerability unveil itself. Theater teaches us through reflection that emotion, both positive and negative, is what makes day to day life mean more than waking up, having a day, and going back to sleep. I love being on both sides of it, audience and artist.”

I can’t speak for the whole of humanity, but I can speak for myself and people I think I know well, like my father — and vulnerability is universal, at least to my universe.  When a piece of theatre and a cast of actors such as those in the show we saw tonight can tap into this, authenticity is virtually guaranteed.

So if you’re in New York right now, do your self a favor and get tickets for this show before the last three performances are over.  Be vulnerable.  And then grab your favorite parents and have a rousing discussion about truth and meaning.

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