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Do Live Arts Matter?

People like live theater. People like concerts. They like dance. They like performance. And while some might say that technology has moved entertainment to an electronic medium foreshadowing the demise of live performance, there are those who respond that without live arts the fabric of society and social interaction will suffer irreparably. And that we are, in fact, already suffering from diminished opportunities to experience live arts.

In a keynote speech addressed to the Association of Theatre in Higher Education in 1992, performance studies scholar Richard Schechner (in)famously declared: “Theatre as we have known and practiced it – the staging of written dramas – will be the string quartet of the 21st century”. Where is it today? Live performance has suffered for a variety of reasons not the least of which are the labor unions, the large scale productions that can only be performed in grand venues, and higher ticket prices required to support presentations. This holds true for all the arts – plays, concerts, dance. But now more than ever it could be said that we NEED live arts.  Participating and even viewing live performance furthers education, self-empowerment, creativity, social change, self-expression, and more.

In “Birdman”, the 2015 film proposes that theater manages to hold the complexities and contradictions of the world. If only in a flickering, unstable moment. That is an experience that provokes within the players and the spectators contemplation, inquisition, and reevaluation.

Ben Cameron asserts (more than 5 years ago) that we now live in a world where we are encouraged to look at our fellow human beings with hostility, fear, contempt, and suspicion. Recall governmental exhortations to “report any suspicious behavior to the authorities” that we’ve been hearing since 9/11. In contrast, Cameron states, “live arts matter more than ever — to link humans together at a primal level of shared experience,” and that live performance creates a different world where we can look at people with generosity and curiosity.

Where would you rather be?

Watch Ben Cameron’s fascinating and entertaining TEDx Talk on why live arts are more important than ever.

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