March is Oscar time, and I watched this year’s award show from beginning to end. It made me realize that as much as I love going to the movies, it will never match attending a live performance. So far this month, I’ve happily found myself in the audience of four different shows ~ a jazz concert, a high school musical, a friend’s bar gig and a play at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. Each experience reminded me of the importance of live performances, especially in a world of increased isolation created by digital technology, social media and screens, screens and more screens. The benefits of live music and theater are numerous, but here are five things that make attending a live performance simply sublime.
1. Human Connection ~ When we attend a live performance we become part of a temporary community made up of people who have at least one thing in common – each has chosen to suspend all other activities to attend the same performance. These communities might come together at a fancy theatre in the city, the local high school or a corner pub, but the result is similar. Research shows the heart beats of audience members actually synchronize! Live performances create the human connection our world is so desperately lacking.
2. Valuing Artistic Talent ~ One could argue that our society values things over people. How refreshing it is to celebrate the talents of both a Juilliard-trained cellist and a friend who sings and plays the guitar. This week I was moved to tears by high schoolers singing and dancing in a school play and by veteran actor Richard Thomas’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. While such talent may be God-given, these ordinary people work unbelievably hard to refine their abilities so they can graciously share it with others in a live situation.
3. Social Discourse ~ Our high school’s anxiously-awaited annual operetta featured a new musical called Ranked. The story of a dystopian world where academic competition reaches a new level as highly publicized grades define high school students’ worth made for a thought-provoking evening. In the same way, the audience watching the stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird contemplated issues of poverty, race, addiction, injustice and innocence. In a departure from the novel, the main character and narrator, Scout, ended the show with this line, “All rise!” Long after the curtain closed, I’m still thinking about the deeper meaning and call-to-action of those two powerful final words.
4. Real Human Experience ~ Movies, albums and Facebook posts can be edited to perfection before shared. More and more often they are computer-generated. Every live performance is unique. No two live performances are ever the same. For this reason, the experience becomes more real, risky, exciting and ever-evolving for both the audience and the performers. With live performances, it takes more effort than just pressing play. There’s something fresh and real about a performance that isn’t canned and digitized.
5. Different Perspectives ~ Live performances help us see life from different points of view other than our own. As an audience member, we watch life happen in a pin-pointed way on a stage in front of us. The music, action, dialogue, props, light and sound reach into our emotions and can make us see life from another perspective. As Atticus Finch said in both the novel and in Aaron Sorkin’s new play, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” §
“Nothing beats a live performance. Nothing.”
~ Jonathan Demme, filmmaker
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