Ranting with Cyle: ‘Theatrical Community’ by Cyle Durkee

How do you know that it’s too early in the morning (on a Saturday, no less), and no one has gotten enough sleep (we all know that sleep is something that happens to people outside the arts)? You begin waxing philosophic with the others in the car (you are obviously on your way to rehearsal at some ungodly hour). Now the others in the car happen to be Matt Wilson, your director for Act a Lady at The HUB Theatre, and Klyph Stanford, your scenic designer for the same. And while you might think that the conversations that are had by artists (half awake and wondering where the nearest source of caffeine is) would be meandering and vague you will quickly discover that the flock of thoughts (much like a murder of crows) settles itself into neat rows on the mental telephone wires created by the conversation of a community of three.

Cyle Durkee.
Cyle Durkee.


The discussion was one of community. What is the community in a theater? How is it different from other communities that share similar qualities (you could argue that very few other communities share the qualities that theatrical communities do {but for the moment let’s just play along})? And ultimately what is the service that it provides to the community?

Let’s look at the community of theater and one other type of community: The community created around sports. Theater is a community of artists who are constantly moving from theater to theater to create art for public consumption (and like anything the public consumes, there is a wide range of tastes {and consuming raw or under-rehearsed shows may lead to theater borne illness [much like consuming stadium concessions means you are actively tempting fate to smite you in the bowels]}). While the theater commnity may have many familiar faces, the sports community has a more stable roster of players that represent whole communities. Now both communities exist in the public forum, are spectated, practice for the big day, and create visceral reactions in the people attending their finished products.


Matthew R. Wilson.
Matthew R. Wilson.

When you look at these aspects side-by-side you begin to see some differences. Take the cast of a play and the players on a sports team. They all exist in the public forum, and, in fact, do everything they can to both be as visible as possible and to remain that way.They both do this because they can demand more money for performing their jobs if more people are coming to see them (though, hundreds of millions of dollars might be a bit excessive), and because the adulation is, in many cases, a driving factor for the individuals. The difference comes towards the end of the career. A great athlete hangs up his jersey and is placed on a pedestal as someone to be remembered as a warrior on the field of play. A great actor hangs up each role and leaves a line of pedestals, each unique, in his wake. Each marking a moment in his life and creating a pantheon who’s worshipers are those that each performance changed inherently.

Both groups are spectated regularly. This is where the audience truly becomes part of the community. When attending a sporting event there is, as Klyph says,”a manner of anonymity.” This allows us to become part of the action without any real repercussions. We can yell at the referee, and cheer as loud as possible, we can berate the opposing fans because we are one of thousands of like minded people, and those men (or women) on the field are our direct representatives. They are fighting our battle: The battle for the supremacy of our community.

Theater audiences have a tendency to be far more reserved. And there is no true anonymity as an audience member (we can echo-locate your laugh or your candy bar un-wrapping, and we can see past the footlights {Matt reminded me of that}). And while the team represents a community at large, the cast represents highly specific aspects of that community that each individual may, or may not, be a part of. Klyph also mentioned that one fundamental difference is the fact that the crowd knows that it can influence the outcome of a game. Whereas, in a theater, the script has been written and the audience knows that nothing they do will alter the outcome. So while a crowd attempts to change the world it sees, an audience in seeking a change can only attempt one internally.

And we now come to the visceral reaction of the community. This is also tied into the purpose of these communities. At a sporting event there are moments of true triumph and loss. And the community shares these as they happen and afterward. There is celebration and mourning after each and every game. But even in that mourning is a celebratory spirit of the coming together of the tribe. You have sent your warriors out into the field of battle and they have returned (victorious or defeated). And you know that you are part of something larger than yourself because of it. You have all contributed your energy to give your warriors strength, to let them know they have a whole community behind them, cheering them on. And as a result, you have reminded yourself that you have a community as well.

Klyph Stanford. Photo By Amy Kellett.
Klyph Stanford. Photo By Amy Kellett.

The community of theater is far more subtle and far more delicate. Yes, you contribute your energy in the form of your focus, and your laughter, and your tears. That focus leaves when you stop believing that this particular show will serve its intended purpose. That intended purpose is always the same, regardless of genre, or antiquity. The audience will focus, will deliver itself up to the cast on stage, as long as they believe that there is a chance at something magical. The audience contributes to the sacred space that is created during a show, that inviolable circle of visceral understanding and communication. They continue to contribute as long as they feel the connection increase; the energy grow. They are not sure what exactly they are hoping for, but they know it is coming. And then, in a beautiful moment, one of the cast is lifted by the currents of the congregated. He is raised up, briefly, and has a revelation; a moment of epiphany. And in that moment the audience is given what it came for. They have sacrificed their time and their energy on the alter of theater because that revelation has just changed them fundamentally.

So, going to a sporting event is a chance to show that you are powerful, that you and your tribe have the capacity to change the world. Going to the theater is a chance to change yourself. It is at the theater that you will be transformed. And in that one instant of inspired revelation (that you helped create), as you are altered fundamentally, the whole world becomes new. That is why the community of theater doesn’t just change the world, it changes each world.

Read Cycle’s other articles in his column ‘Ranting with Cyle.’


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