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Theatre As An Intervention For Empathy Development

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1464
  • Category: Empathy

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Self-reflection is a great way to learn empathy and acting can help a person to analyze themselves. A role is made up of certain qualities. When you play a character, you see some of their qualities in yourself. All the world is your stage; you are a character too. Once you have played a few characters you realize the power of perspective. Every person or character has a different viewpoint and identity. Becoming different people on stage is a great reminder that everyone has different beliefs. Bogart believed in the transformative power of theatre writing, “I believe that we can become ‘a different kind of person’ simply by exposure to powerful writing, even within the duration of a novel or a play.” (Bogart 8) Personal circumstances can greatly affect the way a person behaves. Not everyone has had an easy life. People are not rude for no reason. Maybe they were raised in a bad environment or something bad happened to them during their childhood. Theatre builds empathy because it shows just how complex people can be; theatre is the best way to see through someone else’s eyes for a day. On the stage you learn how to be everyone in the world and learn awareness of what it would be like if your circumstances were a little bit different.

Being an actor on stage is not the only way theatre can develop empathy however. An audience member can just as easily develop empathy for characters on stage. This has been true for millennia whether it be Oedipus in the age of the Greeks or Evan Hansen on Broadway now. Ayad Akhtar writes in An Antidote to Digital Dehumanization? Live Theater of the power theatre can have on the human body writing, “Indeed, at its best, it’s the experience of us as one mind, one heart, one body. Live performance can synchronize the heartbeats of an audience is no surprise to any of us who ply our trade in the theater. Certainly not to any writer or director or designer who has lived through four weeks of previews trying to get those heartbeats to sync up. This sense of oneness with an audience, of losing all sense of time, of absorption in the travails and triumphs of the living actors — this is the daily antidote.” (Akhtar 3) We are all human beings who love and hurt. The theatre allows us to connect with the innermost core of our being. Theatre allows us to access something ancient inside us that makes us human. As Akhtar said, “A living actor before a living audience. The situation of all theater, a situation that can awaken in us a recollection of something more primordial, religious ritual —the site of our earliest collective negotiations with our tremendous vulnerability to existence. The act of gathering to witness the myths of our alleged origins enacted —this is the root of the theater’s timeless magic.” (Akhtar 3) Theatre allows us to experience ancient and real emotion. During that short time in those seats we can feel true empathy for what a character in the story is going through.

Theatre is a powerful artform because the stories that can be told through it teach a person how to behave more empathetically. In speaking of the power of this ancient art form Bogart writes, “From their ancient origins and continuing through today, stories bind societies by reinforcing common values and strengthening the ties of shared culture. But they do more than that. Stories give order and meaning to existence and are less costly than direct experience because with stories it is possible to collect information without having to personally undergo the experience. Also, fiction provides a playground and a workout for cognitive functionality.” (Bogart 5) The stories theatre tells is a great way to learn new things without risking any personal harm and learn compassion for others.

The main reason theatre can affect us so emotionally is due to an actor’s performance. An actor does not just memorize lines. An actor turns words on a page into a living, breathing person. Even more so for method actors who spend days being their character. An actor must first figure out what a character wants and desires. The script is just words after all. It is then of course up to the actor if they will truly feel the character they are playing emotions or if they will just use their skills to create a realistic performance. This can be shocking to some. Bogart writes of one critic saying, “Due to the intricate choreography and precise musical cues in the scene, Ellen found it necessary to count. The scholar was appalled. He could not believe that Ellen was counting while he felt such strong emotions and empathy for the character.” (Bogart 99) This is a credit to the actor’s talent if anything and should not be frowned upon. Empathy can be created for a character through several forms of acting styles since there is no one correct one.

It is incredibly important for an actor to be empathetic with the character they are playing on stage. To really sell a story, whether it be theater on a stage or even writing characters on a paper, the number one thing you need is for the story to be believable. If a story is not believable it is not any good. The best stories get you invested in a character and what is happening to them. You laugh with them, cry with them, and suffer with them. The ability to get empathy for a character is important in this case because if you can empathize with the characters being told, then you, as the performer, believe in the work you are doing and therefore you can sell your performance and make it more believable for the audience. If you hate the character you are playing and do not empathize with them at all, it will show in your work. You will not put in the time and effort in to learning your characters wants and needs and developing your characters personality and physical ticks. You will not put the same amount of love and care in your craft that you’d put into a character you love. It would be dull work for the performer and dull for the audience as well. It is comparable with an author writing a book. When they are writing about characters they love the reader and the author are both having a good time.

You may be wondering why empathy is so important. It is not only great for building and keeping strong and healthy relationships, but to achieving success in many fields. By being empathetic you will treat the people you care about the way you want to be treated. You will better understand the needs of people around you. You will more clearly understand the perception of yourself others have of you because of your words and actions. You will be able to more accurately understand the actions and reactions of people you interact with. Do all of these traits have a common theme? Of course, and it is being a good person. Not only that, it is a list of crucial traits an actor must have to understand their role. In order to understand characters an actor must understand human beings.

Theatre has been a part of human kind forever. From the stone ages to now we have enjoyed sitting in a building with other people and watching people tell a story. Why is this? Because we long for human connection and emotion. We long to learn empathy and how to treat one another better. All the authors articles touch on this. We tell stories to figure ourselves out and to figure out others. Bogart writes, “In the theater we construct journeys for audiences utilizing the tools of time and space. We create societies, tell stories and propose means by which people can live together with increased humanity, empathy, and humor. A, effective production communicates in ways that infiltrate the audience in multiple layers, weaving details and scenes, narration imager, symbolic action, plot, and character. Learning to ‘wright’ stories effectively is a lifetime study.” (Bogart 6) Theatre is special and nothing is quite like it. It has an ability to transport and transfigure us into better beings. As Jones said, “We are still lost in wonder before this magical are of the theatre. It is really a kind of magic, this art. We call it glamour or poetry of romance, but that doesn’t explain it. In some mysterious way these old, simple, ancestral moods still survive in us, and an actor can make them live again for a while.” (Jones 5) Empathy is a nurtured trait and theatre is a great way of developing it.

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