I haven’t been to the theater since the pandemic closed the curtains nearly two years ago, and I miss it like a dear friend. I fondly recall the many times I took my language arts students to see a live production of a play or musical. I’m retired now, but I remember how those field trips to the theater filled an ordinary school day with excitement and elegance.
Learning a little about a performance before going almost always enhances the experience. I enjoyed preparing my students for a production by familiarizing them with the story, the setting, and the writer. Several years ago, my daughter memorized every note of the soundtrack to Wicked before we saw it, and I was glad I studied up on the life of Alexander Hamilton before seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius musical, Hamilton.
Another important part of the educational experience is understanding that appropriate conduct and dress show respect for the performers and the venue. A curious thing happens when teenagers dress up; they behave better. I would say that’s true for most of us. When we’re feeling polished, our best manners tend to shine. Going to the theater is a wonderful chance to learn and practice proper etiquette. The more we frequent the arts, the more comfortable we become.
Every sight and sound at the theater is punctuated with beauty and anticipation. Theaters are often housed in exquisite buildings that stir a feeling of reverence and awe. I loved watching the faces of my students as they looked around the unfamiliar space, some giddy with excitement, others strangely quiet. Before a show begins, we bask in the ornate architecture, dim lights, heavy velvet curtain, and sounds of an orchestra tuning up.
Finally, there is the elegance of the production itself. Each element, including lighting, costumes, music, dialogue, and movement, is carefully chosen to transport the audience to another time and place. Together, we experience shared emotions we didn’t even know we had, let alone had in common. We applaud the cast and crew as we learn to understand and appreciate theater as a magnificent form of art.
I realize many of my students liked going to the theater because they got to ride the bus, sit next to their friends, and get out of a few classes. Still, I hold on to the hope that those trips enriched their education and their lives and that as adults they continue to explore and treasure the elegance of going to the theater. Even if I must don a mask and show my vaccination card, I can hardly wait to go back to the theater. §
“I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
~ Oscar Wilde