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Celebrating humanity's shared artistic tradition: Theatre

In May 1964, playwright, author and activist Lorraine Hansberry gave a speech to the winners of a creative writing contest hosted by Reader’s Digest and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). Included in her remarks was this illuminating quote: “Write if you will: But write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be — if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking — but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: Tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up.” 

As the author of one of the most esteemed plays of all time, “A Raisin In the Sun,” Hansberry was well aware of the transformative power of theatre. Throughout the centuries, theatrical productions have accomplished the central mission of art: To explore worlds real and imagined, using them to comment on the social, political and personal movements of our lives. Today is World Theatre Day, so there’s no better time to celebrate the historical and continued relevance of the stage.

From the Hellenistic Age to the Shang Dynasty, various forms of theatre have developed in different cultures. Tracing the history and watching theatre reproduce itself around the world through various times in human history is fascinating. It’s the ultimate proof that performance is natural human instinct, no matter where you are on the globe.  

One of the most compelling aspects of theatre is that it’s an interdisciplinary medium. Most obviously there’s the combination of literature and acting, but opera and musicals also introduce music into the equation. Musicals also made dance prominent in theatrical productions. Set design is equally crucial, and other aspects of the visual arts have increasingly played a role in contemporary plays. Of course, we can’t forget that many of the core tenets of cinema are derived from the framework laid by theatre. One way or another, nearly every form of art has been influenced by theatre.

Jennifer Dars, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and managing director of the Livingston Theatre Company, shared how she fell in love with theatre and how Rutgers has only bolstered her passion. “I have been involved in the arts since sixth grade when I attended a summer theatre arts camp at my local community theatre. Since then the arts have always been a passion of mine, but it wasn’t until coming to Rutgers where I was given the opportunity to learn all the different aspects of theatre that I really began to develop a strong passion and love for it,” she said.

Sure, poke fun at the “theatre kid” stereotype, but it makes sense why cast and crew members are so dedicated to the craft. A quality production takes months of planning and practice, and the payoff that comes with running a successful show is priceless. 

Emre Yenigun, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and publicist for the College Avenue Players, explained how theatre has impacted his life. “I'm someone who gets a little shy and anxious in normal life, but I found the experience of acting and writing like the ultimate version of play. It's freedom. A team effort of imagination. You can be anyone you want to be in the performing arts. To me it felt like the world was open, it all made sense,” he said. 

In an increasingly digital world, some would say that theatre is largely becoming irrelevant. But as long as humans have captivating life experiences, the art will persist. Yenigun shared a quote from South African playwright Athol Fugard to emphasize the eternal relevance of the stage: “My fascination lies with the living moment. The actual, the real, the immediate, there before our eyes. Theatre uses more of the actual substance of life than any other art. It uses flesh and blood, sweat, the human voice, real pain, real time.” 

The show will go on, for as long as we do.

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