That’s show biz, baby

During a global crisis, theater is more important than ever

Aubrey Rhoadarmer, Staff Writer

Illustration by Micky Flores-Nieves

In a time ruled by COVID-19, the world has been broken down into two categories: essential and nonessential. Unfortunately, mediums of art such as theater have fallen into the latter.

Theaters across the country, from the big stage of Broadway to college programs such as Seattle Pacific University, have had to cancel their shows, leaving countless jobless and directionless. There are no aid packages going to dinner theaters, no government task forces being diverted to musical productions. In a capitalist society where power and money are idolized, the label “nonessential” has been branded across every stage in America.

However, it is now that theater should be cherished the most, for it has the power to bring people together in ways nothing else can.

Theater is special not only because it can entertain, but because it can teach. People can begin to understand the plight of others through the performances they see on stage.

A story is the most impactful when it is playing out right in front of you when the characters are staring you in the face and forcing you to think about who you are. Only a theater performance can reflect the human experience so vividly and accurately, challenging the audience’s perspectives and beliefs at every turn.

Productions such as “Newsies” show the effects of capitalism on the working class. Classics like “Hairspray” and “West Side Story” warn about the impacts of racism and how it can break apart communities. “Romeo and Juliet” paints a vivid picture of the dangers of prejudice.

Theater has the power to challenge people’s preconceived notions about the world, and in a time like now, that is an incredibly important tool.

During the past several months, the polarization within America has become incredibly clear. Those on the far right and the far left are often unwilling to hear the viewpoints of the other side. But theater can help bridge the gap.

“The Foreigner” follows a liberal man of color and a conservative southern white woman as they learn to understand each other. “Into The Woods” chronicles the experiences of a group of people from differing backgrounds, who come together to help each other reach a mutual goal. “Grease” is a story of compromise between polar opposites.

Even through comedy, the messages within these stories are clear. Working together and searching for understanding and agreement can lead to a better world for all. This is a lesson our government could stand to learn.

Theater can also be used as a way to share the truth. Especially now, as people in power try to diminish the deadly reality of the coronavirus, paint protesters as criminals and terrorists, and strip away the rights of women under the guise of religion, the truth is more important than ever.

Queer people and women are having their existences threatened every day by the leaders of this country. Theater departments are known for being inclusive, welcoming spaces, where women and those in the LGBTQ+ community are able to thrive. With such uncertain times ahead, the safe environment of the theater must be cherished and protected.

Theater has always been something people have run to in the midst of tragedy and uncertainty because in lawless times, art is what brings people together. Now, more than ever, we must encourage artists and actors to share their stories, because that is the only way we will make it through this pandemic.

Looking back through history, theater has survived pandemics before. Shakespeare, the greatest playwright in history, wrote many of his best works in the midst of the bubonic plague. Art thrives through chaos. Now is not the time to abandon it.