“The arts are increasingly seen as kind of the garnish: they’re the extra, they’re the sprig of parsley on the cultural plate. But they’re not. They are the main course.”
The above quote is included in and gets to the heart of the message of a recently produced short film now circulating around the internet about the importance of theatre in our society. Theatre Communications Group (TCG), in colaboration with Firefly: Theatre and Films, has just released Stage Matters, a ten minute short film about the impact of theatre in America and the challenges the artform faces moving forward. The video focuses on many aspects of theatre, including education. In Part 1 of the film, strong attention is paid to the various areas in our society where theatre has made a visible personal, political, educational, and economic impact; Part 2 highlights the obstacles today’s American theatre community faces in its work to maintain and increase that impact.
To answer the question, ‘does theatre matter?’, Stage Matters highlights the thoughts and opinions of artists, theatre leaders, patrons, educators, authors, and politicians, including science fiction writer Ray Bradbury and Congressman Adam Schiff of California’s 29th District. Two prominent artists in the Twin Cities theatre community, Michelle Hensley of Ten Thousand Things Theatre Company and Joe Dowling of the Guthrie Theatre, lend their observations about the current state of the American theatre as well.
Theatre education is an important aspect addressed in the film, and representatives from the areas of public education and the non-profit arts world offer powerful insights. “There is not an individually taken standardized test that improves creativity,” states Doug Reeves of The Leadership and Learning Center, for example. “They do not include collaboration…or critical thinking. The things we do in the arts are not just wonderful aesthetically; they apply directly to what kids most need for 21st Century skills.” Ashley Hare, a teaching artists with Omaha Theatre Company in Nebraska, further talks in the film about the impact that theatre has on the girls she teaches through Girls, Inc., an organization that serves girls from low-income families. Hare says that she sees first-hand the great value in using drama classes to teach kids “that it’s okay to think outside the box, to be yourself, to be creative.”
Stage Matters also addresses serious challenges and obstacles the American theatre faces in the 21st Century, including the need to reach out to and give voice to increasingly diverse audiences and the need to reevaluate how artists and audience can come together . “There are more stories that should be told, that need to be told, that people would love to see told, than there are spaces and availability in theatre in the formalized sense,” says Jennifer L. Nelson from Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC. But as another contributor states at the end of the video, the core of theatre is about “solving problems that only many voices can solve,” and the filmmakers of Stage Matters seek to deliver the many voices in this film to that particular discussion.
According to Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG, “the theatre profession has grown from a handful of groundbreaking theatres in the 50s and 60s, to more than 1800 not-for-profit resident theatres” in America. “In 2009 alone,” she says, “80,000 professional artists in those companies impacted more than 30 million audience members.” Eyring feels that Stage Matters should be circulated to “colleagues, funders, city officials, and (community members) as a tool to gather support for theatre and ensure a vibrant theatre community in the country for centuries to come.”
CLICK HERE TO VIEW STAGE MATTERS