As today is World Theatre Day, let me explain the many hidden benefits of seeing a show.
Maybe you’ve found yourself walking along as a theatre performance has finished and the audiences flow out onto the streets, talking excitedly, chattering, laughing, maybe singing, in the aftermath of a collective event that has in some way affected them. As someone who works with the mind, I am fascinated with what happens to people during the theatre experience and why, so that we can understand the positive benefits of theatre to us all.
Let’s start with some facts. Firstly, theatre is an enormously popular leisure activity. More people attend theatre performances across the UK on a weekly basis than attend football matches, which is quite an eye-opening statistic.
In 2021, an extensive UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre report showed that theatres generate an annual cost saving to the NHS of £102,234,585, by helping benefit the physical and mental health of those in their surrounding communities.
Many international studies have confirmed this, showing that those attending theatre performances report higher levels of satisfaction and mental wellbeing than those who do not attend. So why is this?
Well, the answer is multi-layered. On an experiential level, the benefits of change upon the individual are well-established. A visit to a theatre space to see a performance will activate some or all of the following areas - self-regard (considering what to wear), anticipation (thinking about the event ahead, what you are looking forward to about it), social anticipation (looking forward to seeing friends or family), experiential anticipation (thinking about what you know about the performance, elements contained within it, the actors, the music), curiosity (what you think you might feel about seeing the event), and many more that you can well imagine, I’m sure.
Irrespective of the event itself, theatre has the power to help us come to terms with change, which is the only constant in life. However, our nervous system doesn’t “like” change - and tries to avoid it to “protect” us from it. By stepping out of our comfort zone - perhaps by going out to an unfamiliar environment or trying a new kind of show which we’re not sure if we’ll like, allows us to expand our comfort zone, which has benefits in terms of enhanced confidence and self-esteem. But change is all around us, and adapt to change we must. In going to a theatre event we navigate the change in environment (we are going out of our home!), the change in destination (we may know that theatre - or we may be a first-time visitor), the change in social mixing (we are out, often with friends). The theatre space itself is a change in location, too. And then we come to the event itself.
The very act of a group of people coming together to hear and see a story being told is significant in itself. By being in the same place at the same time, this disparate group of people have identified something they have in common, some reason for coming to this place at this time, and have acted upon that. This forms a bond within the theatre space itself, where a collection of “audients”, plural becomes “an audience”, singular.
The basic human need for connection is satisfied in this group of people who, for a few hours, come together to form a tribe of their own, where a single communal experience will be their exclusive bond.
Whether our lives are going well or badly, a theatre event provides a significant escape from the real world for a few hours, where we can engage with something that is different that will entertain, educate, enlighten, challenge or even shock us. But this removal from reality is also complex and layered.
Firstly, there is the removal from our usual environment (our home) into a less familiar environment (the theatre space). And then, having come together as an audience, this unique tribe experiences a communal removal (into the time, place and people of the theatre event). When this event is over, the audience “leave” the created world of the theatre event, being released back into the theatre space. This unique tribe then leaves the theatre, in doing so reacclimatising themselves to the real world outside the theatre, and finally upon returning home, are back “in their lives” once more. They are still the people they were, but they have been changed, perhaps imperceptibly, for the better.
The length of the effects vary for each audience member, but for most they will have experienced a communal experience, formed a new tribe, learned things, been caused to think, perhaps laughed and recognised our common humanity, as well as flooding their bodies with good and useful chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins - all of which have the potential to elevate their mood and positive feelings about relating with the world.
At this time when we all need to boost our self-care, make sure you make time for theatre – and feel the benefits!
Copyright ©2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia - all rights reserved
Juan Carlos is a therapist and author with over 22 years' experience as a diagnostic scientist.
All blog entries are Copyright ©2019-2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia, All Rights Reserved.
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