Contributed by Martin Denton
Imagine what it must have felt like to be in the first audience of The Cherry Orchard (in 1904, more than a dozen years before the Russian Revolution), confronted by Lopakhin taking control of an immense estate that his father once worked on as serf.
Or to watch, with Apartheid still the law in South Africa, a play like Blood Knot or Sizwe Banzi Is Dead.
Imagine being the first onlookers to meet Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois; or Willy Loman and his son Biff; or Walter Lee Younger and his Mama Lena; or George and Martha and their imaginary child.
Imagine being in the glittery opening night crowd at Hair in 1968, with all those crazed hippies refusing to stay on stage; refusing, in that one scene, to keep their clothes on.
Theatre has a long and vitally important tradition of opening minds to new ideas: of challenging the current order, the way we think, the way we live.
The artists who have honored that tradition—the Chekhovs, the Papps, the Millers, and so many more—inspire me to do what I do, day in and day out.
I find new heroes all the time. The people who make compelling theatre nowadays—especially those who do so in the indie theater community—are all my heroes. What they do must look quixotic to many, and yet what they do is essential. To my mind, nothing compares to the experience of fully engaging with a roomful of strangers and a play that takes us somewhere new; nothing has the immediacy, the forcefulness, the ability to suddenly alter how you perceive part of the world. If you don't believe me, go see something by Judith Molina at The Living Theatre...or something by bluemouth, inc....or something by Eric Bland... (and I can give you dozens more examples). See something created and performed by any of the thousands of independent-minded playwrights, directors, actors, designers, and technical people who make theatre not to become rich or famous but to express something urgent, something challenging, something that can jolt the status quo.
We can find entertainment—and even, sometimes, enlightenment—in so many places these days! Everywhere in our lives, the comforting glow of screens, large and small, pulls us away from others and into ourselves. Theatre does the opposite: it pushes us to gather together and share an experience that is at once intimate and epic.
Here's how I want us to celebrate World Theatre Day 2011: I want everybody in the world to partake of the unique and glorious gift that is the theatre. Cherish it; honor it; share it with everyone you care about.
And then do it again next week.
Because in one of those thousands of venues—maybe in the smallest and most modest of them!—awaits the same cathartic thrill that an Albee or a Fugard or a Stanislavsky gave their audiences years ago. And when the next one of those bolts of lighting strikes, I want to be there. I want you to be there, too.
Martin Denton is the founder, editor, and chief reviewer of nytheatre.com. He is the Executive Director of nytheatre.com's nonprofit parent organization, The New York Theatre Experience, Inc. (NYTE); the editor of NYTE's annual Plays and Playwrights anthologies, along with the collections Playing with Canons and Unpredictable Plays; and the founding producer of nytheatrecast, NYC's first original, regularly scheduled theatre podcast. Martin received an OTTY (Our Town Thanks You) Award for contributions to the community in 2008; and with NYTE's Managing Director Rochelle Denton, he was honored with the 2008 Stewardship Award from the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation.