Let me preface this by saying I am a performer. I’ve been acting since I was a kid and have made my way through all sorts of various arts of performing at some point or another over the years. I love it, I study it, I live it. But the other night, as I was step touching my way through a choir show I was struck with a question: Why?

I have to admit, that despite how much I love the performing arts, I have this thought at some point during every show I perform in, every show I tech for, every show I see. It strikes me hardest when I am actually doing the performing though. It usually comes in the middle of a show when I look out at the audience and see the ocean of faces staring back at me and I am overwhelmed with doubt and wonder. Why do we do this? What is the point of standing up there on that stage? What is the point of sitting in an audience watching other people up on that stage? What on earth would possess anyone to put themselves through all the inevitably hellish aspects of creating a performance? Why don’t we just stay home?

I guess a lot of these questions come from the age of technology that I grew up in but sometimes it all just seems so futile and so pointless. There are a lot of logical reasons why we continue to support the live performance industry: entertainment, public platform, education, the ever abstract “art.” And yet, none of these reasons seem to satisfactorily explain my inner conflict. And then today, I was having a conversation with a voice teacher and she brought up something that finally resonated with me. It’s the group consciousness. It’s the same reason that people join sports teams or activist movements. And while I can’t exactly speak to the experience of those things I can say absolutely that there is something about performing, and even watching live performance, that takes you outside of yourself. You are part of a something bigger and sharing that consciousness with your fellow performers, and the complete strangers in the audience, is an out-of-body experience like no other. It allows you to be expressive in away that society would frown upon in any other context. It allows you to literally step inside someone else. Even if you aren’t playing a specific character, for instance like the choir show that inspired this rumination, the act of being onstage allows you to take on any characteristics that you want to. Of course there are other pretty sound reasons that performing and watching performance is pretty cool. Like getting to explore the human psyche in imaginary situations and getting to bring all sorts of art forms (costume, light, set design etc) together in one, living, breathing space. And let’s be honest, commanding that kind of attention is a bit of a rush too but ultimately, for me, it comes down to the freedom that being part of an ensemble gives me to be expressive and to experience some kind of higher, group mentality.

It’s a hard question to ponder and it always brings up some existential crisis within me, but inevitably when the show is over, the set is struck and the lights are turned off I am filled with a great sadness that it is over and a burning desire to start it all over again. I’m sure that as the months and years pass by I’ll get to discover even more of the never ending reasons that it’s all worth it in the end but for now, the next time I’m staring at the crowd and wondering what I’m doing, I’m going to make sure to take a moment to appreciate the people up there with because the bond of an ensemble is something to be truly cherished.

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