A Palos Verdes Theatre Professional Shares Why We Need Live Theatre … More than Ever

Hold the stage.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Jenn Robbins
  • Illustrated by
    Nikki Smith

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” – Oscar Wilde

Lighting up the 2021 inaugural stage, youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman gave us a glimpse as to why theatre, in its immediacy, is what Oscar Wilde called the greatest of art forms. By bravely sharing her humanity, Amanda invited the audience to sense its own. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, and a culture of racism and violence, her transformational performance invited us to confront, heal and act—in a way that only theatre can. Some say she stole the show.

And it was quite a show. We listened to songs from Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez, rousing speeches and ceremonious prayers. We marveled at the regal, jewel-toned coats and matching masks, and Garth Brooks in a cowboy hat lunging for hugs. The show contained no second camera takes or postproduction magic. It was imperfectly wonderful, risky and live. 

The familiar players and scenes of presidential inaugurations took on new meaning, as if to defy the dark moment of the attack on the Capitol weeks before. It was theatre.

Theatre is political. It is necessary for a healthy society. In fact, during the influenza pandemic of 1918, it was Hollywood theatre owners—having been among the first business owners forced to shutter their doors—who descended upon the mayor and city council demanding citywide cooperation. 

Wearing controversial white “flu fences,” they argued for the closure of all nonessential businesses and the mandated wearing of masks. Only if everyone came together, they argued, and acted swiftly and completely, could Angelenos restore their own health and open the bustling economy once more.

Theatre reflects society. It raises up voices and challenges us to do better. As in Amanda’s embodied performance, theatre invites us to confront the past, face the present and change our future. We listen, watch and breathe through the tension and joy of the unknown as one. 

I desperately miss live performances. I long for that pre-pandemic shared experience of laughter, tears, candy wrappers and snores. As an actor, I never thought I would long for the sound of a woman in the front row shout-whispering “What did she say?” But I do. Like so many imperfect, spontaneous things before, I long for all of it. I long for the day when we hear and see—what Amanda said—together.