For me, when done well, theatre conjures up all of the clichés that evoke transformative, life-affirming experiences. I laughed, I cried. I was moved. When not, theatre can be squirm-inducing, unintentionally funny, or worse, horrifically boring. As a kid, I was exposed to the classics that our community theatre at the time offered: Oliver!, Alice In Wonderland, Annie, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, A Christmas Carol. Almost every year we saw the San Jose or San Francisco version of The Nutcracker. We had a subscription to Scholar Opera (anyone remember Scholar Opera?) and saw tamed, kid-friendly versions of Carmen, La traviata, La bohème, and The Barber of Seville. I loved Scholar Opera so much because not only did they visit my school to perform a preview of the upcoming show, but after performances, the actors all stayed to shake hands with young audience members and sign our programs. I remember how special it felt to get a dazzling close-up of the actors’ costumes and make up. Heaven.
Even as an adult, theatre can still thrill me. Last Wednesday, Josh, VA, and I attended the opening night performance of The Winter’s Tale outdoors in Clark Park, which is a small, residential park located in University City. The funny thing about Clark Park is that there’s a lot going on that’s not going to stop, even when Shakespeare makes its yearly appearance. Kids swing and slide and squeal and giggle as actors emote onstage. Dogs bark at each other. I could see park goers tossing Frisbees back and forth. Just beyond the stage, there seemed to be a small group of hula hoopers gyrating off in the distance. As the sky darkened, I spied a few bats flying overhead. Surprisingly, all of these distractions totally added to my overall enjoyment of the show.
The best part about live theatre is sitting with a crowd to watch a specific performance. No matter if it’s opening night or the 500th performance, there’s something magical about that shared, finite experience. Last Wednesday, the audience crowded into the park and lounged on blankets spread out on the grass, balancing plates of dinner on our knees and drinking from plastic cups. Although in truth, we attended the play because VA had a couple of good buddies in the chorus, the production exceeded my expectations. The acting and direction made the difficult “comedy” easy to digest and enjoy. It’s easy to go with it when you can eat and watch a play at the same time. VA occasionally leaned in to ask what was going on, but she laughed at many of the jokes and loved seeing her friends up on stage. My favorite part was just watching a play on a warm summer night. I’m totally going back again next year, if the oracle allows.