Is Theater Relevant?

I heard a wonderful talk by Howard Shalwitz, artistic director of Washington’s Woolly Mammoth Theater, yesterday morning, discussing the relevance of theater, through the history of Woolly Mammoth with allusions to ancient Greek theater and The Group Theater of New York,which struggled through the depression years.

His six positive points about theater may be paraphrased as follows:

1. Theater does not cause harm, as so many human activities seem to.

2. Theater brings people together and creates community.

3. Theater builds listening skills, which are good not only for appreciating theater itself, but also for appreciating political discourse. And it teaches collaborative skills. There is a strong tie (beginning in Athens and carrying forward to S. Africa, Czechoslovakia and now Belarus) between theater and democracy.

4. Theater fosters education (through plays you can learn many things – historical and otherwise – and literacy. It can bring children (and adults) out of their shells.

5. Theater helps the economy and helps neighborhood revitalization. Building and maintaining theaters create jobs, neighborhoods get help because people are on the streets at all hours, restaurants open, etc. Look at Washington DC and how theaters have helped: 14th Street corridor, H Street NE corridor, Southwest, etc.

6. Theater encourages us to take a hard look at our own lives, and gives us a mirror to enable us to do it.


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