The Unexpected Benefits of Being a Theatre GeekAug 09, 2018
I doubt many people have ever thought to put the words ‘theatre’ and ‘geek’ together, let alone become one, but please bear with me. Being a theatre geek is not just about what you see or how often you see it, it’s about what you can gain from whole experience whether the performances be good, bad or just plain weird. Absolutely anyone can benefit from going to the theatre. Yes, that includes you lovely people!
Geek culture is fashionable
When it comes to my experience of theatre, hardly any of my friends like going to it: I have to bribe them with after-show drinks to watch anything I’m either acting in or have written for the stage. Some see it as a dying industry and feel it is socially acceptable to ridicule theatre-goers for being pretentious, self-gratifying, and even boring. Why, they say, would we waste money to watch people prance around a stage when we have Netflix? Those who do enjoy treading the boards or writing plays might immediately scoff at the idea of introducing geek culture into their sphere, worried that the mainstream are trying to dilute their sacred space with dumbed down content. The plebs couldn’t possibly comprehend the genius of our work, darling.
They cannot deny, however, that geek culture is seeing its biggest boom for decades. The cinemas are inundated with Marvel, DC and Star Wars flicks. Programmes like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are binge-watched by millions. The Comic-Con International: San Diego has become a mainly media-led event to showcase upcoming movies and TV series¹, regarded as the place to be for mainstream audiences as well as lifelong comic-book fans.
Being a geek is fun, entertaining, and, dare I say it, fashionable.
Although there appears to be a lack of serious plays that involve sci-fi, fantasy or superheroes in both mainstream and independent theatre, live performances have flourished at Fringe festivals thanks to audience’s love of nostalgia and the creative imaginations of the performers. Such shows include Battle of the Superheroes, Board Game Smackdown, Full Frontal Nerdity, Late Night Gimp Fight, One Man Star Wars Trilogy, and Knightmare Live, to name but a few. Live performances often spring up at comic cons and expos and are reasonably priced in comparison to the larger, West End venues.
It’s good for your health
Depending on the type of performance there are health benefits to watching live drama or comedy. Research by University College London and Encore Tickets found that watching a live theatre performance stimulated your cardiovascular system to the same extent as 28 minutes of healthy cardio exercise.² This is mainly due to your heart quickening with the excitement of being entertained as well as the anticipation of the unknown. Anything can happen the moment you take your seat. I remember going to see the marvellous Sam Wills, aka Tape Face, at the Komedia in Bath, years before he went on America’s Got Talent. The only thing I knew about him was his gimmick of putting duct tape across his mouth, preventing him from speaking during the show. Straight away it put the audience on the back foot, making them meticulously scrutinise everything he did in the hope of finding clues to the punchline. My heart thumped every time he peered into his bag of props on the side of the stage – he was so wonderfully weird and unpredictable, giving us what felt like a workout before, during and after every gag.
There are also mental benefits as well as physical. A minimal set (i.e. hardly any scenery or furniture) automatically stimulates audience’s imaginations and increases their creative thinking. Watching some live performances brings elements of play, humour, and laughter, improving motivation and reducing stress. Some productions induce empathy for characters, their situations and the subject matter, creating emotional connections.³ These connections are all the more palpable because you could literally reach out and touch the actors in front of you.
It expands your horizons
If travel broadens the mind, then theatre definitely pushes the boundaries. Whether surreal or horribly familiar to real life, plays can challenge views of social change and political strife, discussing the questions that other mediums fear to ask. Examples range from Shakespeare’s Richard III to James Graham’s Ink, commenting on power, greed, and corruption. Plays also give a voice to the oppressed, with playwrights speaking out about sensitive subjects such as poverty, gender inequality and class divide. Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is a great example of all three in the time of Thatcher’s government – it is gritty and uncomfortable at times to watch, but its themes are still relevant in our society today.
Theatre can also push the boundaries of how we watch. Immersive theatre focuses on heightening the senses and breaking the fourth wall, getting rid of the barrier between actors and audience. Some performances use technology to their advantage, both visually and audibly. The best example of this is The Encounter by performer/creator Simon McBurney, where binaural (that’s both ears) technology is utilised via headphones hooked up to each seat. Audiences hear the sounds of aeroplanes flying over their heads, or recorded voices whispering in their ears (literally). You could argue that TV and cinema have 3D technology and surround sound, but they’ll never be able to make an actual person walk out of their screens!
You can get involved!
There are two types of participation in the theatre: audience and voluntary. If you’re an introvert, like me, the former is enough to bring you out in a sweat at the thought of being singled out. However, I’ll let you into a little secret. Three years ago I worked in a pokey comedy club in Piccadilly, London and the majority of comedians I met were just as nervous as the audience. They liked to have some interaction with the front rows for different reasons. Some used it as breathing space whilst they remembered their jokes. Others just wanted to break the ice and have a chat. I’ve never met a comedian who used it as a tool to humiliate a member of their paying audience. They are there to give you your money’s worth and to hopefully entice you back to another show in the future, not to create hostility. Audience participation is mostly about being vocal about your enjoyment by cheering and applauding. It makes the performers feel loved and it makes you feel good too.
Volunteering is lesser known but great for building confidence and increasing your social circles. Volunteers are responsible for checking tickets, showing customers to their seats, and providing information about the performance. Some theatres also encourage people to volunteer for local community projects. You can do this by simply clicking on the ‘Get Involved’ section of theatre websites and seeing what events they are hosting.
Another way to expand your comfort bubble is joining an amateur dramatics group. I became a member of The Western Players in 2010 after reading an advertisement in their programme. Feeling a little too shy to act on stage I decided to enquire about becoming a backstage hand. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Within weeks I was painting scenery, learning all the stage jargon and producing theatre posters. Two years later I was the lead in their production of Noel Coward’s Still Life, known to film buffs as Brief Encounter. I never had a dull moment in am-dram. You name it we had it: sets falling down, backstage tantrums, actors forgetting their lines or props…one time we even had an actor fall off the stage mid-speech. The second, without a doubt, was the camaraderie. These people were not polished professionals but normal folks who didn’t quite fit in to other cliques and had a love for theatre that they wanted to explore. We became our own sub-culture and we enjoyed the feeling of belonging to something special, both on stage or off. I had four wonderful years in that group and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone.
I hope this article has provided an insight into the world of theatre and possibly whetted your appetite to try something new. Stay tuned for theatrical reviews on live performances, stand-up comedy and plays coming your way in the coming weeks. Until then, I’ll leave you with this quote by Catherine Tate:
“If you want more people to come to the theatre, don’t put the prices at £50. You have to make theatre inclusive…You have to lure people by getting them excited about a theatrical experience.”4
Helen Pain – Joined CfG to play games and now she’s our creativity expert
- https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/sep/22/why-are-comic-cons-no-longer-about-comics (Accessed: 27/06/18)
- https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/theatre/going-to-the-theatre-is-as-good-for-your-heart-as-30-minutes-of-cardio-apparently-a3646496.html (Accessed: 04/07/18)
- https://stagewise.ie/performing-arts-helps-young-people-blossom/ (Accessed: 05/07/18)
- https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/540646-if-you-want-more-people-to-come-to-the-theatre (Accessed: 05/07/18)
Grab a free guide on how to grow your stream or podcast from scratch. Or perhaps a guide on creating your social media content?