From the moment the curtain opens, and the lights come up, the stage is a magical place. Live actors tell a story which mirrors moments in life, sometimes joyous, other times sad. It takes these moments which can often be grueling and allows people to empathize, to see sides to situations they might never see otherwise. The energy of the actors being physically present is powerful; film and tv simply cannot achieve this. Theatre tells us about ourselves. It tells us of the many different worlds we live in. It shows us the connection we have to each other and encourages us to close that gap.
Theatre has its origin around the second millennium BCE in ancient Egypt in which every year people, in celebration, would perform a dramatic presentation of the death of the god Osiris and its aftermath according to the ancient myth, hopeful for his resurrection one day (Fort & Kates). From there, it would grow. From the ancient Greeks to the medieval Mystery plays to Shakespeare and de Vega, theatre evolved until it eventually became what it is today. It entertained, inspired, and offered a bit of joy to people who needed some fun in their boring everyday lives. What theatre did best then and what it continues to do today though, is offer us an emotional reflection of ourselves.
In Ancient Athens, the great tragedies were heavily influenced by Greek mythology. They usually featured a great person who was overall pretty good, however due to a mistake or deliberate defiance of fate and the gods, crumbled to suffering or death. In Oedipus the King, the king and queen of Thebes discover a prophecy that their baby son will grow up to wed his mother and kill his father. In attempt to escape that fate, they send him to die. In doing so however, they fulfill the prophecy themselves. Because, he is saved by a shepherd and raised apart from his real parents, he has no knowledge of them causing him not to think twice before killing his father when attacked on the road to Thebes or marrying his now-widowed mother after saving Thebes from the great mythical beast, the Sphinx. The dramas such as this one reflected the deep respect and fear the people of that time and place had for their gods. It allowed them to see and feel what would happen (at least in their beliefs) if any one of them dared to question the gods’ wisdom and power (Wasson, 2018).
In Shakespeare’s time, the theatre became a place of solace. Life was not long for most, and there was much unhappiness, with disease and a social hierarchy stacked against many. The lower classes would often quarrel with each other. Women were essentially property. People’s rights were very restricted (“Shakespeare’s World…”, 1997). Attending plays gave people a momentary break from their world. Love stories like Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream portrayed things people hoped would happen to them (well except maybe for the dying bit in the former). History plays chronicled the rise and fall of many of England’s old kings, and how that shaped society. Often behind his historical dramas, there lied a connection to what were then present-day issues (“Shakespeare’s History…”). Henry V had themes of war which could be considered analogous to the then current conflicts and imperialism taking place in Ireland and other countries (Greenblatt, 1981).
In more contemporary times, new productions are performed all the time, with one of the most famous avenues for this being Broadway. It seems to me that we are in a golden age even, of live theatre. Plays and musicals address so many different feelings across so many different audiences. Spring Awakening, the 2006 adaption of the play of the same name, features a cast of teens in a conservative town in the late nineteenth century in Germany. Their parents have completely neglected to tell them about sex and the changes their bodies are going through, so they are left to figure it out themselves. In many ways our society is the same. Sexuality being a very taboo subject, many kids today are encouraged to keep their thoughts clear of it and remain “pure”. The show assures kids that what they are going through is universal and that their story (how they are feeling) is being told; it also lets parents see, understand, and remember what it is like to grow up and encourages them to be more open with their children about that (“Spring…”).
Another example of a show which mirrors real life emotions and events is A Piece of My Heart by Shirley Lauro. It features six women who travelled to Vietnam during the war to be nurses. (One of them was not actually a nurse; she was a musician.) They have high hopes for helping soldiers, going in, but over time with all the death they see, they are changed. Gruesome injuries, faked death-counts and personal attacks just cause them to lose hope. Upon returning to the US, “nam” still haunts them. The war is unpopular there and spreading around that they served there is bad for their reputations and their personal safety. The show allows audiences to see the horrors of the war and empathize with the people who are still living with memories of it (Lauro, 2017).
Theatre teaches us about others so many aspects of life. Most people we see on the stage never even lived, yet, we are electrified by them, by people who could have been. The theatre makes them real. We see ourselves in them, and we see people we’d never see otherwise. We learn from them – their triumphs, their mistakes, and their lives in general. They show us what we wish for, and what we can never have, what we must never do, and what must always be acknowledged. We see human life in all its glory, in all its wonder, and all its despotism. Theatre allows us a chance to look into a mirror of the world and see ourselves in a light we might never perceive through our own eyes alone.
Fort, A. B., & Kates, H. S. (n.d.). EGYPTIAN "PASSION" PLAYS. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from
Greenblatt, S. (1981). Invisible Bullets.
Lauro, S. (Writer), & Arigro, S. (Director). (2017, February 10). A Piece of My Heart. Live
performance at Central Kitsap High School, Silverdale, WA
Shakespeare's History Plays. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2019, from
SHAKESPEARE'S WORLD/STAGE. (1997, Fall). Retrieved March 7, 2019, from
Spring Awakening. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2019, from
Wasson, D. L. (2018, January 24). Oedipus the King. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from