I see a lot of theatre in any given month. My personal habit is to arrive early and hit up the lobby bar for a coffee and probably a cookie. Not all theatres have very good coffee or even good cookies, I won’t name names, but you know who you are. In any case I will buy willingly because it’s partly a habit and somehow I feel like I’m contributing to the theatre, even though I dropped $40 on the tickets! Another reason for this tradition of mine is that it’s always fun to chug your coffee when the ushers start urging you to take your seat. I like competing with the guy next to me who has to finish a whole beer. I know that my buzz will last longer than his and he’ll likely fall asleep by intermission. It’s too bad coffee is hot because this makes it difficult to drink quickly …hook it to my veins! …this is, of course, my symptom in a culture of consumption, which I’ll bring up again shortly.
What am I talking about? A little ritual. This coffee and cookie thing is my ritual before and/or during the show. Some people show up early to get a good seat and read the entire program. Others show up as late as possible to avoid the awkward silence. Some, I’m sure, don’t give rituals more than a thought, which is where I take issue. Even though my ritual is relatively insignificant, I’m consciously thinking about the nature of our behaviour at an event as public as theatre. It’s not like going to the movies where no one can see you in the dark of a cinema sucking back that super-size cola and snorting M&M’s. Theatre is so public that it explains why many people likely don’t come to see theatre, or other live cultural events, it takes effort… shit. I’m not going to belabour the various facets of live theatre versus other forms of entertainment, but I do want to talk about the lost rituals of our community.
Art seems to be such a marginal aspect of many people’s lives. Our culture in North America doesn’t set a lot of value in the production of art as a necessary activity. It’s poorly discarded as a freakin hobby when it needs to be seen as a necessary aspect of living. If we had a better connection with the land we live on, we might feel more inspired to create art for survival. If only we could follow art as faithfully as we might follow a religion, then it wouldn’t be taken for granted. I’m saying this with the assumption that we all, somehow, subscribe to a single culture, when clearly North America is made up of thousands of cultures. I’m taking issue specifically with our culture of consumption. What are the things that excite and fascinate us that we feel we must consume? This culture is about consuming whatever can be sold to us, which is easy because we generate the demand.
So what happened to the culture of ritual practice? Something I am dreaming up, where we don’t have time for excessive consumption, but instead we focus our energy in taking part in a ritual. How about the ritual of seeing live performance? It requires a community to come together to witness stories about themselves and otherness. It’s a learning experience where everyone feels comfortable in public. The tradition here might be to sing a song or do a dance before the show, or maybe just to sit and discuss something. It certainly sounds more appealing to me than buying a coffee and cookie to get me through the long darkness of theatre today.