Theatremakers often defend theatre as important, in an effort to fight the tide of people calling the art form irrelevant as audiences age and dwindle. Despite saying it over and over, however, the fact remains that it theatre is of almost zero value and interest to the majority of the country.
I think calling it “important” is a mistake. (I actually think calling any art form “important” is a mistake – substitute “ballet” or “opera” or whichever imperiled art form you want for “theatre” in this post.) “Important”, for one, is a weasely and relative sort of word, and makes the hearer wonder: important to what? To who? If someone isn’t interested in theatre and has never seen much of it, you telling them that it’s important either 1) insults them, suggesting they’re dumb because they’ve been ignoring this important thing, or 2) makes them roll their eyes at your self-delusion, because, obviously, if it was important, they would have heard more about it.
Food is important. Sleep is important. Education is important. War and peace are important.
Theatre is not important. It is invigorating.
Theatre is enlivening, vitalizing, rejuvenating, nourishing, or any such synonym.
Theatre invigorates the mood, the spirit, the mind, or the first date. It is anything from a good night out to a life-changing experience: a spectrum of experience that can all be rightfully called “invigorating,” the same way anything from a brief trip to the sauna on up to a revelatory trip to the Caribbean can be “invigorating.” Like cinnamon or ginger, theatre can be anything from a simple seasoning for your evening to a body curative.
Is “The Importance of Being Ernest” important? Despite the title, no. It’s sugar cake. Tell someone theatre is capital-I Important and if the first thing they think of is Wilde, they’ll think you’re batty. But try telling them it’s invigorating and how can they argue?
Theatre invigorates communities and economies, as all arts do.
Theatre invigorates the cultural standing and philosophical achievement of its society, and facilitates social change.
“Important” suggests necessity – but if you’re trying to convince a naysayer and non-playgoer, they can use their self as an example that it’s not necessary. There are plenty of people who live fabulous lives without a lick of theatre. Therefore, not necessary.
“Important” suggests prominence, influence and impact. Theatre has waned in influence considerably, and the lack of awareness on the part of a non-playgoer is once again a counterargument in and of itself. Theatre is invisible to millions of people, therefore, not prominent.
The “every dollar invested in the arts produces multiple dollars in return” argument doesn’t suggest importance; those dollars are helpful, but not necessary, and someone can just argue that there are better investments. The “theatre improves children’s minds” argument doesn’t suggest importance; there are plenty of other things that improve our children. The “theatre brings communities together” argument goes the same way. Theatre isn’t a necessary investment – just a very, very good one. An invigorating investment.
Theatre does good. It adds life and liveliness. It invigorates, rejuvenates, and nourishes.
Do we need it, naysayer? No, we don’t need it as a society – all we need is food, basic services, shelter, security, industry; we don’t need movies, TV or music either… or sports. So no, we don’t need it, but it does make society better. It’s a net benefit.
Do you need it yourself, naysayer? No, of course not, you’re clearly fine without it. But you’re missing out. As good as things are for you, they could be even better if you went to theatre. You’d have even more options for entertainment, options unique compared to those found on TV or online. You’d feel more connected to your community. You’d have experiences you can’t have via movies or music or hanging out with your friends. You might have a revelatory experience.
Cinnamon and ginger aren’t important, but gosh, they are damn nice to have.
Theatre isn’t important. It’s invigorating.