No better place to start our
discussion than with the
attempt to provide a rationale for our existence as a disciplinary
within an academic institution. This
not our obligation alone, of
because every institution must itself make definition of what it values
attempting to achieve. Any
is, at heart, a cadre of people of like mind, bent on developing common
interests based on a life’s conviction.
in this age of specialization, our institutions are being restructured
companies,” becoming a composite of interest groups within
within interest groups, each advocating its own significance. Yet, each of these smaller
groups is bound to
the overarching agreements it has with the other groups. We need, as an academic
simultaneously focus on our own interests and
on the larger institutional goals.
believe we need to vitally contribute to both, the department
as well as the
of the handbook attempts to clarify the role played by the Department
Theatre in the life of the university.
• A.1 THE STUDY OF
Supposedly you are able to make a
good argument for Seattle
Pacific’s goals and interests.
enrolling here you are investing yourself in those goals, although you
are probably passionately
committed to some of them more
than to others. And
since you are
reading this handbook you obviously have some degree of attraction to
institutional interest group which peoples the theatre program. Let’s look at
the art, the academic
discipline, and a few interfacings of the art with our faith.
Theatre is not some peripheral or
incidental part of our
lives as human beings. Arguably,
one of the most important means we have for opening contact with the
world. It serves as
a tool for checking
ourselves against the actions, appearances and thoughts of others,
need to measure ourselves against standard of social acceptability. Of course, we’re
not speaking here primarily
in images of purchasing a ticket and sitting in the dark absorbing
composed visual and aural experiences.
Such an artificial (read that as
“art”-ificial) creation is only a
highly refined and language-drenched abstraction
of the real theatre around us. Fun,
we love it, but things more fundamental lie beneath such highly
The theatrical is all around us. Our ability, say, to look
at a person walking
across campus and make up stories about that person’s
emotional state, sense of
purpose, and attitude toward self is a part of our everyday use of the
social scientists refer
to this as our “histrionic
and it forms the basis for our needful ability to
“read” the scene around
us. When we do this
we are performing
theatre in our head, imagining scenario and ascribing
Children at play employ imagination,
situation-based scenarios to help them learn to come to grips with the
which they live. Skillful
this play can even give some of them abilities to control that world. (Yes, some children play better than others.
were you?) As
adults we do not lose this
ability. We channel
sophisticated role-playing and into
learning to project certain of
scenarios, through imagination, to alternate
of us even formalize our practice of
these abilities: we “play-out”
“plays” and call ourselves
Ah, yes, you say, all very spooky and
something I’ll have to
think about. But at
best this use of
theatre can be called informal. What about formal theatre?
You know, scripts, characters and actions
meant to be performed by actors, etc.
What can be the impact of that on our lives? Tremendous, obviously.
Thanks to television, narrative film,
and a recent
revitalization of the legitimate theatre,
our generation has more access to performed theatre than any of our
it becomes a major force in our
individual lives as well as in our society.
It comes in a couple of packages.
Have you asked yourself about the
strong, nearly hypnotic
appeal of the motion picture in our society?
Thanks to the potency of a technology allowing mass
audiences, the form
has become the predominant incarnation of theatre in our time.
This kind of theatre provides us with
vivid experiences of a very direct
is highly attractive
because it seems so vitally lifelike! Not
“lifelike” in that it accurately reflects real
life—most films are far too
sensational for that—but that it
appears to present itself
in much the same
manner as we know the experience of “living.” Life is spontaneous,
coming at us in a raw
form and leaving us the task of interpretation.
We are assaulted with sensory experiences, bombarded by
arm-twisted into responding to the moment, and only later, after
given distance and allowed to direct our perceptions into sensibility. Film echoes such an
experience in the very way it seeks to communicate: you
are asked to submit
yourself to the images, the rhythms, and the stirring of emotions as
of greatest importance. Motion
through the multiple sensory responses they demand from you, engage you and captivate you far more with
their presentation than
their ordered ideas.
But in contrast, have you ever sat in
a darkened theatre, a
crowd of strangers surrounding you, living performers before you, and
moved to a vital kinship and a sense of community and group
together you are caught up through living language and ideas into some
place of the human psyche? Be
serious or comedic, these moments are extraordinary and sublime
the art of the theatre, “tribal” experiences as
ancient as civilization. In
these events your experience is absolutely
controlled to focus you on what is being discussed, the thematic
Theatre of this kind usually places
its emphasis on indirect communication. It
doesn’t assault our senses so much as woo them.
Its chief tool is language, and it seeks to create
situational (plot) symbols which stir its audience to involvement with
and to identity with the struggles of being human.
“Indirect” implies that the aim of the
experience is not so much an emphasis on
the sensory moment as upon contemplation of the substance and
“traditional” theatre makes an issue of employing
communicating with a living audience in a real-time setting. It seeks, thereby, to foster community
and revels in its ceremonial
Actually, the distinction between
these two theatrical forms
is not at all new, nor are the forms mutually exclusive. Plays are often like films
and films often
resemble plays. The origins of theatre—so far as we can
tell—lie in the tribal dance,
in storytelling, and in religious expression.
Theatre has always reveled in the sensory
response, in the rhythms of the
dance, the color, music, and excitement of the tribal celebration. It, also, has always been
employed for imitative story telling;
substituting for other human beings in the structured telling of a true
imaginative series of events offered for the purposes of tribal
theatre as a religious or spiritual
expression has always concerned itself with the issues of being human,
physically and spiritually and in pursuing vivid sensory stimulations
as cogent commentary on life.
Here, then, is the real stuff of the
theatre: sensual experiences which
batter us and
stir in us our inherent urge for order and
comprehension; vicarious rather than actual
experiences which spark alive our imaginations; imitative predicaments from which we draw parables to improve our lives.
heart of theatre art is the creation of experiences of heightened
appeal which, through their compelling power, engage our intellects in
human trait of organizing
useful sense of what is being perceived.
The essence of the theatrical act purposes to challenge
and audience with the situation and feelings of another human being,
doing it abstracts from cultural commonalties rather than creating the
situations and feelings themselves.
goal is to awaken the ability of people involved toward creating
interpretations of what is presented.
imitates life’s situations, presenting condensed versions of
them in order to
allow those involved to extract moral lessons which will help clarify
hopefully, make stronger their spiritual dimension.
(And yep, you’re in the world of academe all
The theatre is among the
liveliest of the arts. It
itself on life’s experiences, it presents itself
through the believable
actions of persons (actors), and it can truly only exist through
made in the presence and imaginations of other persons (audiences).
Theatre may be distinguished
from “drama” by understanding that
“theatre” is the larger word,
encompassing all the elements of the art, while
“drama” refers to the literary
aspects of the experience: language, characterization, theme, and
traditional Western theatre,
the two concepts are mutually dependent.
Theatre would be trivial without
the undergirding of drama; drama is incomplete without the fulfillment
Theatre as a form of artistic
expression displays its social usefulness
in many ways. First,
as described above, it allows us to
gain perspective on who we are in relation to others. (This can be dangerous if
or social groups are consistently described only in simplistic, or
or frightening ways.) Second,
as is the
case for the individual, society can examine itself through a
presents social issues fairly and in enlightening ways.
The stage has always been a catalyst for
public discussion, and this cause was, in fact, the impelling factor
the ancient Greeks to invent the traditional Western form of
theatre. And third,
the theatre exists to provide
delight. In this
regard it may serve its
highest function, that of bringing cohesion and definition to a
society by way
of underlining the values of joy and celebration which lie in
darker and lighter vicissitudes.
The theatre also serves the function
of a museum. By
provoking the issues and attitudes of past
eras—either through resurrected materials or contemporary
reconstructions—it can bring to life
the elements which
comprise a civilization.
provide vivid and lifelike illustrations useful in gauging progress or
can instruct in those
things which change and those things immutable.
At once it can reveal human history and enlighten our
responsibility placed on the theatre artist!
These musings are only the merest
introduction to the
purposes of the theatre—one of the oldest continuing
humankind. Its roots lie in religion, community,
celebration, myth making, and
philosophical complexity is overwhelming.
As a human study it is
eminently worthy of academic focus.
a career preparation it offers
challenges and meaningful rewards.
study of this wonderful human endeavor is one which can last a
The Nature of the Academic Discipline