Why theater is essential to democracy | Oskar Eustis | Summary and Q&A

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Why theater is essential to democracy | Oskar Eustis

TL;DR

Theater is essential to democracy because it allows for dialogue, conflict, empathy, and community, and it is our responsibility to make it accessible to all.

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Key Insights

  • 🗣️ Theater is the essential art form of democracy, as both were born in the same city - in Athens in the late 6th century BC.
  • 🎭 Invention of dialogue shifted theater from one-way communication to a dialogue between characters, creating conflict and allowing for the emergence of truth.
  • 🤝 Theater encourages empathy and the ability to see and understand different points of view, which are necessary tools for democratic citizenship.
  • 👥 The audience plays a vital role in theater, creating a collective experience and a sense of community.
  • 🎟️ Joe Papp believed that theater should belong to everybody, leading to the creation of Free Shakespeare in the Park, which provides free access to high-quality theater.
  • 🌈 The Public Theater also focused on inclusivity by allowing people to create their own classics and opening up opportunities for amateurs and professionals to perform together through programs like Public Works.
  • 🎵 "Hamilton" exemplifies the power of theater to ennobles language and people by using the voice of the people - it revives our aspirations for the United States and promotes inclusion.
  • 🔴 The culture industry, including the theater, needs to include and reach out to all parts of the country, not just the major cities, to truly fulfill its role as a reflection of society.

Transcript

Theater matters because democracy matters. Theater is the essential art form of democracy, and we know this because they were born in the same city. In the late 6th century BC, the idea of Western democracy was born. It was, of course, a very partial and flawed democracy, but the idea that power should stem from the consent of the governed, that po... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: Why does the speaker argue that theater is the essential art form of democracy?

The speaker argues that theater is the essential art form of democracy because it was born in the same city as the idea of Western democracy. Theater allows for dialogue and the conflict of different points of view, ultimately leading to the truth. It also encourages empathy and the understanding of different perspectives, which are necessary tools for democratic citizenship.

Q: How does theater encourage dialogue and the conflict of different points of view?

Theater encourages dialogue and the conflict of different points of view by shifting the dynamic from the speaker talking to the audience to two people on stage engaging in conversation. This allows for a clash of opinions and perspectives, highlighting the importance of differing viewpoints in the search for truth. Drama and conflict arise from the disagreements between characters on stage, leading to a deeper understanding of different perspectives.

Q: What role does theater play in building community and audience engagement?

Theater plays a crucial role in building community and audience engagement by providing a collective experience for the audience. Unlike movies, which can be enjoyed alone, theater requires the presence of an audience to truly come alive. The act of coming together as a community to laugh, cry, and hold our breath while watching a performance creates a sense of unity and belonging. It transforms individuals into a whole, part of a larger community.

Q: How has theater impacted social change and cultural shifts?

Theater has played a significant role in impacting social change and cultural shifts throughout history. Productions like "The Normal Heart" and Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" have helped change the dialogue and perceptions surrounding issues like the AIDS crisis and the LGBTQ+ community. By giving voice to marginalized communities and portraying their experiences on stage, theater has the power to challenge societal norms and shift perspectives. It can be a catalyst for change and a vehicle for addressing important social issues.

Q: In what ways has the speaker addressed the issue of access and participation in theater?

The speaker has addressed the issue of access and participation in theater by creating programs like Free Shakespeare in the Park, which brings high-quality theater to everybody for free. Additionally, mobile units have been introduced to take theater to prisons, homeless shelters, and community centers, making it more accessible to diverse communities. The Public Works program enables amateurs and professionals to perform together, breaking down the barrier between artists and audience, and emphasizing that artistry is inherent in all individuals.

Q: How does the speaker propose to reach and engage with communities that have been traditionally overlooked by the culture industry?

The speaker proposes to reach and engage with traditionally overlooked communities by touring productions and partnering with community organizations in rural areas. One example is the upcoming tour of Lynn Nottage's play "Sweat" to rural counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. By bringing theater to these communities and actively listening to their voices, the culture industry can show that the arts are for everyone and bridge the gap between different parts of the country. It is an effort to be inclusive and address the needs of all citizens.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Theater and democracy are interconnected because they both originated in the same city and share the idea that truth emerges through the conflict of different points of view.

  • Theater promotes empathy by asking individuals to imagine the perspectives of different characters, and this emotional muscle is necessary for democratic citizenship.

  • Theater has the power to bring people together as a community, creating a collective experience that fosters a sense of unity and belonging.

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