Theatre is good for you
In the second of her series, Gemma Hirst looks at how theatre can be good for you.
Daniel Bye thinks that theatre can be good for both the audience and the actor. A North East based theatre maker, his work is playful and immediate. His performances deals with comedy, tragedy, truth and lies. He engages with the audience and makes light of the hard-hitting issues in the world.
Daniel Bye theatre maker and writer does think about the audience's feelings when creating a new performance but they are not central to his work "I think about whether they’ll relate to it in the sense that I think about whether it would make sense to me. To my mind, though, the audience don’t necessarily need to relate to it, just to be able to empathise with it. I think that’s an important difference."
Bye’s aim in theatre is to emphasise what is going on in the world as he did with his recent performance of Going Viral that was based on his previous research and topical issues on dangerous viruses, he educates the public in a lesson of how things spread “to relate is to see how you would feel, how something would be if it took place in your life. To empathise is to feel an understanding or an emotional connection however different the lives on display. To me a large part of going to the theatre is experiencing art more generally is to receive news from lives other than my own.”
He doesn’t believe in theatre as a therapy for the audience “the audience is not a therapist and sometimes gives feedback that isn’t conducive to your psychological well-being. That feedback might be conducive to the betterment of your show, but that isn’t necessarily the same thing.”
Artist and performer Selina Thompson from Leeds is very passionate about theatre and believes that your first responsibility as an actor is the audience "you can't make performance without thinking about how the audience will feel."
She recently created a piece for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival called Chewing The Fat- a piece that looked on the issues of body image and the challenging topics of conversation of anorexia “I try to create work that is caring, and to take on board that in places, what I bring up will be painful.”
Believing that performance art can be a creative outlet, like Bye she doesn't think that theatre can work as source for therapy “I find performing draining, exhausting, depleting, rather than helping you work through it.” Her work is playful and participatory; she focuses on the politics of identity and being identified by bodies and how we live "the idea of therapy on stage, in front of an audience once you're a professional is fantasy - and a part of how we devalue autobiographical work (which is often activism led) and art in general.”
Writer and performer Chris Thorpe makes theatre that is focused on the human emotion such as his performance of the Oh Fuck Moment and Confirmation "I like to make work that takes a question that is about human behaviour and why we fail to do something in the everyday" that can often be intense for the audience.
Thorpe can't make art that is made for therapeutic intent “I can’t make a piece of art with the intention of making the audience better, you end up setting up this weird dynamic up if you do this, you set up this atmosphere with the people around you and claim I know all the answers and I can tell people how to live their lives – that isn’t what I am about.” He believes that art and theatre should have a sense of openness “art is opening up a space with people where they can walk away from it thinking have I got more clarity of the flaws of the way we live our lives and the way we are put together, it’s not about have I solved this problem as that isn’t the job of an artist.”
However talking as an audience member the artist from Manchester has found theatre to be of help for him when he least expects it “I have never gone to see a show with the intention of receiving therapy from theatre, but when it happens for it’s been intersected with me on the journey that I am on at that moment in a really beautiful way, so in those terms I do think theatre can be helpful for a potential outlet but it is both secondary and accidental.”
Never used performance art as therapy before, Glaswegian actor Keith Fleming has a passion for acting and performing, he loves sharing a story with an audience who knows wants to listen. He has never used theatre as a form of a therapy "I haven't thought of it as something for self-help, but I know it is used as a device for people to explore their own problems in a slightly safer structured way."
Fleming has found that drama has given him a way to think about his life experiences and how to deal with them in terms of relating it back to a character he is playing in a performance “of course. It's a very broad term....performance art can be as expansive or narrow as people make it. But in a wider sense, whatever form you apply it, then I think the product is a creation.”
He also believes that art is such an important art form to have as it can act as self-expression “any art form which allows us to express our thoughts, feelings reactions to things that have happened to us or around us, and ask questions is surely a most important thing. Art is a 'safe zone' where impertinent radical questions should be asked and debated. If you start restricting this then you take away the power of art and essentially censor freedom of speech.”
The audience is central to performing arts, it is the job of the actor to make theatre resonate with them. Theatre needs to be open and honest for the audiences interpretation. It is up to them as to take the art and use it as a therapy and relate it to their own lives.