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The Seriousness of Play

The Seriousness of Play

2016-05-15 12.00.16_resized                                                                                 By Rob Bishir

When I was first asked if I would write a blog pointing to way to Fleet Street and the upcoming production of Sweeney Todd by Acting Out Theatre Company the answer was an immediate yes.  The only question that remained was what to write about?

If you’ve been around theatre people long enough, you’ve more than likely heard that theatre is magic.  It certainly has been to me.  My first exposure to area theatre came when a friend of mine told me about a group of people that wanted to come to Momence and do a show outside in our downtown.  He wanted to know what I thought about it and if I had any ideas as I was heavily involved with the Main Street program in Momence.


He informed me that they, Acting Out Theatre Company, were about to do a production of Big River over by KCC.  I didn’t know anything about the show, nor theatre for that matter, but I needed to see what this group was all about for myself.  After arriving at River Road Park, I instantly fell in love with the setting that they created.  I could feel the energy of the crowd and the performers.  I found myself thinking, I could be a performer.  Why should they have all the fun?  I could do this in my home town!  I was in my mid 40’s and I pictured myself doing something I had never done before.

The next year I auditioned for Acting Out’s, Chicago The Musical and a new phase in my life began.  My love of community aligned with a new passion, community theatre.  The past three years, I have attributed this as being my first spark into theatre.  Then I began to think about what to write. Theatre is magic… while brainstorming I had an epiphany and I understood myself a little bit better.  I have long forgotten about the young man I used to be with an anthropology degree.  My scientific interest fell around what it meant to be human and how symbols, ritual, and performance helped define and reinforce who we are.  I had been heavily influenced by the work of Dr. Victor Turner, who’s books included the following; Drama, Fields, and Metaphors:  Symbolic Action in Human Society, The Anthropology of Performance, and lastly From Ritual to Theatre:  The Human Seriousness of Play.  Pervasive in his writings are the concept of liminality and communitas.  Liminality is a state of ambiguous transition between states of being in a rite of passage, during which the existing social structure is set aside.  Communitas is the group experience of the liminal threshold between states of being.  Since this is not an academic essay and I’m limited on research time I’ll quote from Wikipedia.  “During the liminal stage, normally accepted differences between the participants, such as social class, are often de-emphasized or ignored.  A social structure of communitas forms: one based on common humanity and equality rather than recognized hierarchy. ‘”Communitas”…has positive values associated with it; good fellowship, spontaneity, warm contact…unhierarchised, undifferentiated social relations’.”  The theatre experience provides the context for the transformation of both the observers and performers and can be considered a liminal experience.
Yes, theatre is magic in the way that it transforms us!  The stories we tell, the structure in which they are told, they connect us.  They are a reflection of us and yes, Sweeney Todd is one of us, which is a quite serious thought indeed.sweeney poster2

I don’t think any of us have the time for a dissertation on the subject, especially on a Monday morning.  I will wrap up before I start searching for text books.  We humans have been telling stories since the dawn of our existence.  The very first stories were told under the stars.  The best and most interesting stories tell us something about ourselves and the culture in which we live.  Stories hold power and as the first societies grew, stories were told in places of power, places significant to the people in the community.  Environmental theatre, such as that brought to us by Acting Out Theatre continues this tradition.  Won’t you join us under the stars in the heart of Kankakee County, downtown Kankakee itself?  Who knows, you might find your own magic!