blog altarAlthough I just returned from the movie, Into the Woods and can write a whole review on why I would rate it 8 out of 10 stars, I actually want to take this opportunity to put words to my experience of why I struggle being inside a movie theatre, or as I like to put it, a house of taking.

I’ll explain.

I come from a history in the theatre, live theatre that is. Having grown up with regular trips into Manhattan to see the latest musical on Broadway, I was called to the theatre at a young age. Acting and directing in community and college theatre eventually lead into a career as an off-Broadway assistant director and director. As an actor and director, the theatre taught me how to play with expression and identity. But the theatre also taught me as an audience member. Watching theatre always invited me into feeling as if I belonged to something beyond me – a larger experience that I was actively participating and loosing myself in. And, as a consequence of that, I had responsibilities. I could not just sit there and do what I wanted to do, no, because I felt my presence effect the space around me. The behavior best suited for the theatre was to let go of my self and allow the play to take me, to laugh and cry and feel through me. And I noticed that if many of us did that, it would have a palpable effect on the performance. The laughter would carry the actor. The applause fed the company like a warm meal during a cold night. The show was feeding us and we were feeding the show. And, therefore, the spirit in the house was alive and well because the whole evening was based on giving. The more generous the company, (usually) the more generous the audience. The more generous the audience, (most usually) the more generous the company. The whole enterprise is based on a cycle of gifting. And that can only occur if you’re willing to leave your self at the door and step into a bigger whole; that of the audience or that of the company. Either way, you belong to something bigger than you.

Tonight, my experience in the movie house was the complete opposite. Tonight, when I sat down for the film, I felt very much like an individual. And, my guess is: so did everyone else. Essentially, we were all watching the same movie together alone. The lady next to me ate her popcorn as if she was on her couch in her pajamas. The man one row below me was interpreting, rather loudly, the whole film to his companion. And another man’s cell phone kept lighting up, reminding him (and me) of the many other things that were happening outside of the theater. People were effecting the space around them, but they didn’t notice (or didn’t care to).

While the movie was also inviting us to lose ourselves in the story and follow it into the woods, we did it solely to be entertained. The larger-than-us factor was not primary. The self was primary because the “taking” was the only given option. We weren’t there to be apart of something unique and vulnerable, with the possibility for failure, off notes, forgotten lines, missed cues. No, we were there with something already solidified and done. And it only asked us to take from it, without limitation.

Taking is not wrong. As my teacher, Stephen Jenkinson says, we humans are constantly “on the take” – on the receiving end of life. The food we eat. the air we breathe and the water we drink are taken by us to survive, putting us squarely in debt to that which gives us unconditionally. This is a debt that can never be paid but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

What sitting in a movie theatre taught me is that when we see something as inanimate and solid, like a movie, our relationship to it is as a subject to an object. The subject, us, have needs (like being entertained) and the object, the movie, is a thing that can give that to us. Or another way of saying it is: Since you can’t feed the film, at least you can take from it.

Live theatre, on the other hand, can be a banquet that encourages a subject to subject feast. Both the audience and the company are giving and taking with each other. The magic of the live theatre is that it’s relational, meaning that by being there, we are not just witnessing it but are in relation to it. We have the power to give to it or take from it. It is always changing and we can effect it and make it very unique and distinguishable. In that regard, the live theatre is truly alive and requires food to survive. It has a spirit. It feels. It asks us to interface and gift with our aliveness, our attention and our respect and observe the immediate corollary. This is what occurs with a truly emergent enterprise: Everyone is apart of sustaining the life of the larger-than-you experience, from overture to curtain. From birth to death. The live theatre is truly is a village making endeavor.

At the end of the movie, Into the Woods, I applauded. The music, the orchestrations, the acting all deserved it. I was taught that my applause feeds and it’s right to say thank you after being fed. But, I was the only one applauding. The only one who clapped his thank you to something that gave me unconditionally for 2.5 hours. Why only me? Maybe it was because saying thank you to a movie is pointless or maybe, perhaps, we are all culturally conditioned to be “on the take” that when there’s a feast, we just expect to be fed.

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