“Everything is theatre”. It is a refrain we have heard again and again throughout this course. At first it was a statement I found difficult to accept. Yes many things involve a performative act, but do all things have the carefully calculated finesse that is theatre?
While I still find the statement slightly cynical, I have come to realize we do each play a part in the bigger story that is the world.
And it is the world itself that provides the various stages on which we must act.
In London, I felt the above to be most true when we entered Southwark cathedral. The grandeur of the inside was designed to impress. Like those elaborate theatres of the West End, that claim society appreciates the arts, this building acts to say our society appreciates and decorates morality.
The scene is set by a lavish altar and intricate architecture. After a few moments of appreciation, the minister grabs our attention from this altar. He demands an audience and we are not able to refuse him in his placement of power. We are guests (though we did not buy a ticket) and we must watch this performance.
After he began to speak, however, it quickly became evident to me that we were not spectators but actors ourselves. We were part of this grandiose play of morality, and I had forgotten my lines.
We were told to sit down, and as we proceeded to sit or kneel we all agreed to participate in this production. As the minister spoke a prayer, I felt incredibly uncomfortable. This was not a play in which I was meant to have a part. Why had I agreed to take part in it? How had I become an actor when I had only intended to be a spectator? Why did I think there would be a divide between actor and spectator in such an immersive intimate space anyway?
Ultimately, I chose to stage myself out of sight of the alter as the man spoke. I sat, I did not kneel. I kept my eyes open and did not move my mouth or say “amen”. If I was being watched in a production all these signs would tell you how I felt about the proceedings.
Finally, the minister at the altar told us all to “say a prayer together in our own tongues”. At this moment I was the actor who had forgotten all her lines and he was a stage manager putting the words into my mouth. As everyone around me recited the Lord’s Prayer, I tried to remember my lines but could not recite the lines I never knew.
As we continued around the city, to Westminster that same day and to St. Paul’s a bit later, I saw how the marvellous buildings performed. How they created awe, inspired a sense of belonging, and shaped the performance of people as they act out their lives.
In the end, we are all acting an identity everyday, whether it’s true or not true. As such, we must remember to be aware of our surroundings and analyze our journeys as we would a piece of theatre. For in this we can find the hidden meanings, the hypocrisy, and the truth that otherwise evade us and leave us without a spotlight.
Never forget “all the world’s a stage and all the people merely players”.