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Photo by Alex Avalos on Unsplash

I watched Crave live streamed from the Chichester theatre a couple of days ago.

I’m not sure how I felt about the play itself, but at the end I was overwhelmed with sadness and frustration.

I’d watched the play, stared at the screen, listened through my earphones but I just couldn’t remember what had happened, what had been said. My brain hadn’t caught on to the fact that I was supposed to be paying attention. I’d missed the moment.

This would never have happened in a theatre. I am an impeccable audience member. I arrive on time, I go to my seat early, I stay silent throughout, I don’t fidget, I listen intently, I barely blink, I laugh, I cry, I try to take it all in, I applaud until my hands tire, and when it’s over everything hurts. I’m exhausted. I’ve given it my all.

I think I was born to be an audience member. One of the best. It’s my talent, it’s what I do brilliantly, it’s what I love doing. When I enter a theatre I know my role, lines, steps. I don’t even need to rehearse.

In every other aspect of life, I doubt. What should I do? What should I say? Did that look weird– am I misinterpreting that? What does everyone know that I don’t? In a way, it’s a very narcissistic way to live. But when I sit amongst an audience I forget I’m a single person. I’m part of a group, just a pair of eyes amongst a sea of them. There’s no question, no doubt, just pure and absolute knowledge that at that point I am here. I am watching people pretending to be other people but it feels more real than anything I’ve lived that day.

Nothing is expected of me and this is where I’m at my best. The lights dim and I can practically feel my mind expanding outside of my cranium, refusing to be confined to such a limited vessel when grandiose experiences are taking place mere metres away. It’s not quite enough to feel like I’m actually, really, truly, actually living it, but it’s close.

When I’m watching a show, reality feels so close I could taste it. Those two hours feel exhausting because I’m sprinting the whole time, hoping to catch the present. A bittersweet experience, but in my opinion a better option than day to day life where I often feel like reality is in a parallel and strictly inaccessible dimension.

The past few months have been hard, and I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m not complaining. But what I’ve learnt from not being able to see live theatre is this: what you see on stage may not be true, but what you live from your seat is real. 

The gasps and the tears and that stunned silence and those chuckles are the purest version of reality. I know how theatre happens, how much work and how many people it takes to create a show. That only makes it better. A group of people wilfully believing the reality constructed by another group of people. Now that’s what I call collaboration. Can we get a bit more of that, on and off stage?

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