I love that the audience part of the theater is called the "house." It is often even more...it can feel like home. So while I understand the urge to rate, rank and score the shows we see during the year, I just can't do it. All those houses welcomed me in with open hearts, and I want to return the favor.
I see such a cornucopia of shows. They spill out in every size, shape, color and sound, and it simply wouldn't be fair to the shows, or to someone looking for ideas, to rank what I've seen, as if creating theater is a race to be won. Yes, if your livelihood depends on making money from a show, the success can be tangibly measured in performances, dollars, contracts, awards. But as an audience member, I'm not looking for a winner. In fact, the more winners there are, the happier I am. Shows don't really "disappoint" me because I don't go in with particular expectations, other than that you engage me in some way that makes me happy, moved, challenged, excited, understood, wistful, surprised, heartbroken...I want to feel something. And that includes having pure, unadulterated fun. Or just letting go during an abstract, absurdist piece, and allowing the material take me somewhere, even if I haven't any idea where I'm going. As I settle into the inky darkness of the theater, letting go of my need to anticipate, understand, analyze, respond, explain; listening to the reactions of the strangers around me and feeling connected somehow, is an unmitigated joy.
When I was taking sign language classes at Gallaudet University years ago, I had a teacher who challenged us to stop thinking of what we were trying to communicate in terms of the words alone. He wanted us to consider the concept; and how we could share that concept with someone else without falling back on the easy words. How do you explain a tree to someone who has never heard the word "tree"? That's how I feel about theater. There are some universal human truths that come up a lot in theater: romantic love, family dysfunction, self doubt, the need to belong or to run away; the need to be heard. But there is a seemingly infinite array of theatrical expressions of those truths. I love seeing a show I think I don't really understand, only to find a deeply relatable meaning as I let it sink in.
My theater experiences this year have made me gasp in delight, let the tears stream unchecked, want to get up and dance in the aisle, go learn something, be a better person, go hug a friend, understand the journey of getting older, find patience where it was lacking, exist only to listen to beautiful music for an hour, take risks...that list goes on and on. But some shows did multiple things on that list. Some did only one, but did it so well, I was stunned into silence at the end.
How then, can I choose a favorite child among this family?? I can't. But I can sit for a while and let the impressions bubble to the surface like the lottery balls in a spinning cage.
Here are my fondest memories of 2013 theater, in no particular order:
So there you have it. There are more, many more. I have a distinct memory of each of the shows I saw this year. I treasure all of them. Because I love the theater. Every time those lights go down, I know I'm about to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and can't wait to see how it turns out.