Delving Into the Dark

I have a confession to make that may seem incongruous given what I do for a living: I don’t particularly enjoy going to the theatre. It’s not that I don’t like the theatre, I do. I like being in it, I love acting, I love creating, I love bump in and rehearsals and homework and learning lines … okay, I don’t really like learning lines, but being in the theatre; being in a show is really the only time that I’m truly happy.

But I don’t like going to see theatre, really. Often. At all. My reasoning is quite domestic, to be honest. When I’m not doing stuff, I’m essentially a lazy person, and getting up out of bed or off the couch to put on clothes and a face, leave the house and go sit on oftentimes uncomfortable chairs for one to three hours is sometimes just too much effort and I can’t be bothered. My other reasons are somewhat cynical; a lot of the theatre I see – made by people I know and those I don’t – I consider to be self-indulgent wank (hey, I’m being reeeeeally honest here), boring, or just another rehashing of stories I’ve heard before. I don’t like watching actors who suck, and I don’t like good actors being used to prove to a director how good he or she thinks she or he is. And this is across the board, folks. This is everything from independent theatre to community theatre to Fringe Festivals to MTC shows to Melbourne’s “Broadway” scene.

But here I am, ranting again, probably sounding like an arsehat who thinks that all theatre is shit unless I’m in it. I’ve seen some good theatre, yes, even excellent theatre, but it’s very rare that I’ve seen theatre that viscerally affects me, and that’s the theatre I like. That’s the theatre that engages me; where I’m not sitting in the audience thinking “I could have acted that better,” or “godsdamn it, when is this gonna end?” but rather, where my snarky little ego is quiet, and I am completely focused on what’s happening on stage.

I saw that kind of theatre last night. It was a show called Columbine, based on the high school massacre back in the late 90s and it was put on at the student theatre of my old university and it was amazing.

The writer/director (or, as he likes to call himself, the Cobbler, as in he just “cobbled together bits and pieces” as verbatim theatre usually requires its cast and crew to do) had been wanting to this show for years, and when given the opportunity to, decided to work with students (my gods, what I would give to have had an opportunity to perform in something like this when I was a younger actor! It would have shaped my understanding of my craft in ways indescribable).

The director (Cobbler), Daniel, is one of my closest friends, so I won’t gush too much about his work, but I will say this: as an artist he has never shied away from telling the difficult stories; the confronting and uncomfortable truths about human behaviour. He has been criticised, at times severely, for the subject choices of his plays in the past because they were so stark and desolate and honest about really horrific things, namely child murder, cannibalism and now, school shootings.

I have a deep fascination with the darkness of human psychology that simultaneously thrills and repels me. I want to understand what makes these people commit these acts, because I can’t imagine how anyone who is not a sociopath or a psychopath could want to murder other people. How could “ordinary” people – teenagers! – perpetrate such atrocious acts and not conceive the effect of these actions upon their own souls and on those around them.

So does my friend Daniel. He created a piece of theatre that very respectfully but firmly explored the events that led up to and took place at Columbine High School, and I came out of the theatre affected.

Affected. Not disturbed, not distressed, not horrified. Affected. Affected in a way that I can’t even really put into words. It was brave, quite simply. The student actors were courageous and engaged and committed and displayed the all attributes I look for in an actor. They were not all the best actors, granted, but I didn’t care. I was right there with every single one of them on that stage, and I felt everything they did. The show was not perfect either. It was slightly over-long and a touch clunky in some areas (issues Daniel is aware of and will fix for the remount), but again, I didn’t care. I was taken into this world and I came out of it a little altered.

That’s the theatre I want to see. Not all the time ’cause I likes to have me a good laugh at the theatre sometimes, but this is the stuff that excites me, that reminds me why I love theatre acting so much, and how it is such an immediate and powerful medium for presenting the thorny issues and raising the questions that need to be raised.

Well done, Daniel. Well done to all my friends who are brave enough to scrutinise and question and probe through this amazing instrument called theatre. I approve.