We all know the movie Dead Poet's Society. The coming of age story about a bunch of boys who are inspired by their English Teacher to rise above the ordered lives of their private school to start living life by the tenants of "carpe diem." The protagonist decides that he wants to be an actor and lands the role of Puck in a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream against the wishes of his father. After a triumphant opening night, the student is withdrawn from his school because theatre is distracting him from fulfilling his father's plans of his son becoming a doctor.
This movie had a large influence on my view on theatre and especially Shakespeare. Luckily my father never dissuaded my from acting. In fact, it was because I accompanied him to an audition for Godspell that I got into theatre in the first place. Rather Dead Poets Society instilled in me that art and literature, more specifically theatre and drama, should be a joyful expression of life and the human spirit. This is embodied by carpe diem, the writings of Thoreau, or the Whitman quote they use in the movie: "I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world."
But that's the point, isn't it. Yes theatre is there to hold a mirror up to nature and show us the difficult things we're facing in order to create a dialogue. But even through the muck and despair, theatre needs to believe in the life worth living and making things better. If we can't point to a joyful expression of the human spirit what hope do we have? I'm not saying that every drama needs to have a happy ending or even an optimistic one, but if there isn't some spark of our humanity that we can latch on to and connect with that tends toward something better, what is the point?
Theatre is one of our rare art forms that brings people together and asks them to participate in the telling of a story. This participation means that there is a choice. And if there is a choice, why waste it on passive entertainment. Choose to seek something more. Whether it is something more beautiful, more challenging, or simply deeper and quieter, don't close yourself off to the wonderful things that can come inside.
Happy Birthday: Conor McPherson