My understanding and appreciation of theater has significantly expanded since the beginning of the course. Because I had limited experience and exposure to theater before this class, most of what I know about theater now came from these lectures and readings. I have seen more, now than ever before, that the clothes we wear and the words they mean have an impact on the person or people on the other end. I have learned how theater is important for historical and sociocultural reasons, but also because there is a large element of theatricality in our everyday lives. Just as in David Henry Hwang did in Yellow Face, we wear many faces for many audiences. Our faces aren’t always intentional or noticeable, but as adaptable creatures we often find ourselves changing depending on the environment around us. The more we can understand how actors adapt to their roles in a play, we can understand how we take advantage of face, costume, and other theatrical elements to fit the roles that society expects us to fulfill. By looking at aesthetics of a play, it’s relationship to history, and the playwriting process, we can see that the value of theater extends far beyond the course of this class. This is important because the more we can understand theater, the more we begin to understand the mechanisms of society and how we, as individuals, fit into this larger system.
First, my perception of the importance of costumes and staging have changed. Originally, I thought that costumes served a primarily decorative purpose. That is, their outfits were meant solely to be exciting pieces to catch the audience’s eye. I learned, however, from Wilson & Goldfarb that costumes and staging serve many purposes. From the boo, I learned the importance of presentation. The way you present yourself to your audience – whether live onstage, in conversation with a peer, in a speech, etc – conveys a certain meaning to the audience. This includes the clothes, hairstyle, and makeup you choose (your costume), and the objects you surround yourself with and the places you choose to stay (the stage). These purpose of costumes serve not only the aesthetic of the play but also serve the actors in their movability, the audience in their understanding of the plot, and the director in trying to convey their message throughout the play (Wilson & Goldfarb, 144). The purposes of staging are similar. Staging, among other things, “sets the tone and style”, “establishes locale and period”, and “provide a consistent design concept” (Wilson & Goldfarb, 144). While many of these elements seem obvious, when we break them down to such basic concepts, we can see how applicable they are to our daily lives. We stage our workplace to fit the work we are doing and the person we are, we stage our home to convey signs of wealth or artistic ability, we are constantly staging our surroundings to make us feel comfortable, just as one designs a stage to strategically fit the message of a play.
Second, I have begun to appreciate the relationship between history and theater. According to Zarrilli, McConachie, Williams, & Sorgenfrei, “there is a relationship between the histories of performance and culture throughout the world to key developments in modes of communication that have reshaped human perception” (Zarrilli, McConachie, Williams, & Sorgenfrei, XXX). It is for these reasons that we must critically analyze theater through the lens of the cultures who created the play and the audience that the play was created for. We must also take into account the time period during which the play was written, and the time period during which the play had been set. This is interesting because, through theater, we are given insight into the minds of writers from different eras and different countries for a few hours at a time. Zarrilli, McConachie, Williams, & Sorgenfrei also writes that “All cultures and subcultures have distinctive modes of behavior, thinking, or acting Such practices include habitual daily activities, special extra-daily practices such as sports events, theatre performances, religious observances, and other cultural performances” (292). These different cultural practices are written about, and appreciated by a variety of different culture through theater, as they are often told and retold in a variety of locations.
Finally, by reading Suzan-Lori Parks’ interview, I was given a valuable insight into the mind of a playwright. She begins by explaining how she didn’t consider theater to be a form of literature, and to that I relate (Tichler & Kaplan, 583). Like Parks, I didn’t have an appreciation for theater before taking this class. I appreciated theater as a form of temporary entertainment, but I had never considered it seriously until taking this class. Additionally, as she discussed her own writing process, I learned about how difficult it is to compartmentalize work and real life. Parks explained that, through self-care methods like yoga, she is able to clear her mind. However, it can be easy to conflate theater with real life as the process of writing can be so immersive. Lastly, she explains how a play cannot be successful without a good director. It is the playwright’s responsibility to create the idea, but the director makes it come to life. Having a good director is therefore pertinent to ensuring an accurate representation of the playwright’s vision, by overseeing the acting, costumes and staging. From this I learned that the process of theater cannot be possible without collaboration.
In times like today, theater can help us to reconcile and understand what we are going through. It can unite groups of people through a common understanding. Theater can also make us laugh, and find escape for short periods of time. What I have learned from this class is that an understanding of theater can help inform the way we live our daily lives – the way we costume ourselves and stage our environment, the way our being matters to the way we perceive and understand history, to the way that nothing is possible alone and we must take steps to make sure that we don’t trap ourselves into a fantasy. This course has taught me that theater does have value beyond school, and they that meaning can differ from person to person. For me, I have become more aware of the theatricality of my daily life and more aware of my positionality in time and history.
- McConachie, Bruce A., et al. Theatre Histories: an Introduction. Routledge, 2006.
- Tichler, Rosemarie, and Jay Kaplan. The Playwright at Work: Conversations. Northwestern University Press, 2012.
- Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Theatre: the Lively Art. McGraw-Hill, 2012.
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