Theatre offers a platform of expression which is thought-provoking and flexible. This makes it possible for audiences to empathize with each other and with the performers regardless of pre-existing cultural differences. In the words of Soyini Madison, a performance studies scholar, “performance becomes the vehicle by which we travel to the worlds of subjects and enter dialogue with one another.” I have found several instances in movies, comedy shows, songs, dances, recitations and dramas where different directors bend the actors’ actions to very divergent wills. Theatrical acts enable individuals to travel from self to others regardless of the cultural differences that may be existence among parties in a given performance.
Theatre reflects the society with a diversity of its cultures. On a stage, the audience is able to see the private lives of characters, learn to judge other cultures gently and become more considerate. In other words, a stage performance showing aspects of another culture enables members from a different culture to have a feel of the shoe in their own foot. In most cases, the audience mostly comprising of people from different cultures reacts to a stage performance in an almost homogenous manner.
At a cabaret earlier sometimes last month I watched a drama that depicted the challenges African immigrants face once they relocate to the United States. The drama featured the protagonist (an elementary school boy of African descent) struggling to understand American football a few weeks after settling in the United States with his parents. It dawned on me that apart from language barrier, getting accustomed to American sports presents many immigrants with a serious cultural adaptation challenge. While watching the riveting drama, I and many of the people in the audience, could almost feel the frustrations of the boy as he failed to master basic terminologies used in American football.
Theatre also presents human beings with an opportunity to create regardless of their cultural backgrounds. Besides security, food, love, esteem and other needs, human beings need to self-actualize. Theatre is the ultimate form of creating universal human experience. I recently found out why William Shakespeare is regarded by many as the father of the theatre. While reading Macbeth- a play by William Shakespeare, I was deeply touched by the heinous acts of the Scottish Lord Macbeth who is featured in the play as the protagonist. I could feel the pains of Macbeth’s subjects as they bore the blunt of his tyranny and I felt extremely jubilant when Macbeth lost everything before he eventually lost his own life. William Shakespeare in this play presents tyranny as a universal evil deserving condemnation across cultures. He presents the freedom of the people and the power to rule themselves as some of the ultimate needs of human beings across the world. Theatre, therefore, not only allows for the creation of human experiences, but also upholds themes on universal human needs thereby unifying cultures.
In order to influence society, theatrical acts must present a general truth on stage. Most theatrical performances purpose to entertain and educate their audiences. In most cases, the educative bit of a performance is more subtle as compared to the entertaining one. This aspect of theatre is crucial as it gives the audience substance over which gel and creates a thirst in them to learn from each other. I find theatre to be a perfect unifying aspect for different cultures.