Live theatre is evanescent. It’s like a flash of light whose after-image slowly fades. Its impact is most potent at the moment of contact between performer and audience. The moment lives on in memory for a while, and then it is gone. Even the memories dies. Theatre is created to be remembered, but also to be forgotten. Every actor, singer, and dancer must make peace with this harsh truth. In fact, they should savor it. The evanescence of theatre is what gives it its electric charge and sets it apart from every other entertainment medium. Everything on television and in the movies can be re-run unchanged, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. But if you miss a memorable event on-stage, you have missed it forever. - John Lithgow, in the Forward to The American Stage, edited by Laurence Senelick.
I love this. John Lithgow brilliantly describes why I love working in theatre. The live arts are an experience, for the audience and the players. It’s really more similar to a sporting event than other forms of entertainment. Every opportunity could be the only one. Every action affects the next. No one is exempt from living in the moment.
My friend Stacy tells a story of being in West Side Story, when is Maria holding the gun at the end. Once, while she’s pointing it at herself, the gun went off. Chino finished the show. That never happened before. It will probably never happen again. If you weren’t there, you missed it.
Sometimes, mistakes happen. Those are the moments that make performers. The actor who picks up someone else’s dropped line. The dancer who makes her slip and fall part of the dance. Those are the pros. The ones who never let mistakes show on their face or in their body. Often, the audience never knows (well, in the case of the above story, they probably knew).
I think that’s why I will always and forever pick attending a live performance over going to the movies. Attending the theatre is participatory, not observational. It is a special moment in time shared between you, the rest of the audience, and the performers. It’s exclusive. It’s special.
And that’s why I love doing this as a career. As a choreographer and a performer, it makes my job personal. I have a personal responsibility to all of those people in the moment with me. I love Seth Godin’s idea of art as a gift. “Art is what we’re doing when we’re doing our best work.”