Monday, March 12, 2012

Why work in the theatre?

Contributed by Alexandra Harbold

Why work in the theatre? Furthermore, why work in the theatre now?

I grew up on
Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers.
When eating soup, dip the spoon away from you, not towards you.
Don’t eat with your elbows on the table.
Asparagus is eaten with your fingers, unless the stalks are too long.

In part, I work in the theatre because it is not polite.
And to connect back to
Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers, however tenuously, it’s about

Theatre pursues and is fueled by our curiosity, our fears, our doubts, our passions, our
rebellions, our hunger, our nightmares, our devoutly-to-be-wished hopes – all of which resist
containment. They jump the borders. Actor/director Simon McBurney of Complicite said
in an interview, “I'm naturally attracted to something I don't understand, because when you
try to deal with that, it opens a door into another world.” I love that theatre not only gives us
a means to wrestle with what confounds and eludes us, it converts that solo wrangling into a
shared experience.

Performance demands skill, but skill alone is insufficient. For virtuosity – and magic – to
happen, it’s a brew of technique and intuition, language and muscle, secrets and radical
generosity, breath. It needs a living circuit between actor and actor, actors and director,
actors and audience. Being in the rehearsal room and seeing theatre reminds me of our
capacity to surprise ourselves and others. To see something from another point of view. To
change. All of which gives me great hope. While it is not polite, theatre makes us
profoundly human.

A friend just closed a show and told me of an unforgettable Closing Night gift she received
from the Crew. Each night, her warm up included The Dream Keeper; she would speak
Langston Hughes’ words into the empty house:

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

That night before the closing performance, the Crew brought her a collection of their

That’s why I work in the theatre.


Alexandra Harbold is an actor, director, and teacher. She is the Artistic & Literary Associate
at Salt Lake Acting Company. Upcoming directing projects include Harold Pinter’s
for Pinnacle Acting Company.

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