According to the Macmillan Dictionary, theatre is defined as “the art of writing and producing plays.” Harold Clurman commented that, “Theater is deep human communication through the mask of fable.” There is no much information on how theatre began. It is evident that a lot has been achieved through drama. For centuries, myths, rituals and ceremonies have been performed by human societies. Later they became part of a people’s culture and dominated their way of life. Hieroglyphics, artifacts and paintings found at excavation sites show that the ancient men had a way of recording events such as wars, hunting expeditions and communication with the gods. These were passed on to young people by way of drama, storytelling and other forms of art. During the performance of rituals high priests had to dress up. They had to put on costumes and masks. As a result, auditoriums were developed as places where the entire community would assemble to witness particular ceremonies. This is how theater was born. This paper explores Harold Clurman’s concept. It explains how a fable is usefully exploited to communicate, inform, educate and warn the populace.
The need to educate the masses is ever-present. This is seen through the hundreds of newspapers, magazines, journals and tabloids. The internet is awash with electronic content that seeks to give information on anything one can think of. In the same respect, theater has taken centre stage on public education. Lorraine Hansberry, authored “A Raisin in the Sun,” a drama about how family’s dreams become destroyed. Through this experience, the family was able to discover other important things that added value to their lives. Through the characters of “Romeo and Juliet” William Shakespeare was able to teach the audiences about the need to shun hatred. According to Shakespeare, love is a beautiful thing, when two people fall in love it is out of the affection they have for each other. Family differences should not come in the way of things.
Theatrical productions turn fables and myths into educative concepts. Playwrights combine a number of themes based either on their personal experiences or the events taking place at the time. Some of these messages are hidden in the written form. Through drama, actors assume various roles. They try to bring out the hidden message. At times the play director has to improvise and add more flavor into a play so that the message comes out well. In the Middle Ages, a lot of plays were written under the theme of morality. The themes were biblical. For instance, plays on the miraculous event involving Noah and his family or the story of creation. The intention was to inculcate some Christian morals on the audience. They were normally performed during Christian festivities such as Easter or Christmas. The venue was in churches with the cast being drawn from members of the same churches. Lessons learnt were later summarized through a series of questions and answers. Through the plays, audiences were able to infer from the characters’ actions what was good and what was bad. In the end, it was left upon an individual to decide which way to follow since each has its own consequences.
Through these medieval plays, the audiences could comprehend powers that God had. They manifested His wisdom. The behavior of men who kept themselves holy motivated one into sticking to the good side. That what befell those, who did evil, served as a lesson to all people reminding of the impending punishment. There were moments of amusement too. When Shakespeare started writing, there were challenging conceptions about the universe and how humans fitted in. In 1543, for instance, Copernicus published his work on the theory of the earth revolving round the sun. Thus, the poets and playwrights found themselves on both sides of these controversies. In “Sonnet 146,” Shakespeare used the metaphor of the soul being at the centre of sin. Such perceptions were hotly contested at the time but the point had been made.
Songs, where used, create a break and push the message further. At times, watching a play can be dull. There has to be variety in terms of tones, speeches and so on. Music attracts audiences and keeps them attentive. In “Twelfth Night,” songs are used to comment directly on characters and serve to summarize the action on a stage. The effect is both visual and audio. It must be borne in mind that theatrical productions are not necessarily based on true events. Some of these plays are a product of the writers’ imaginations. It is upon the characters and the production set to search for the educative content and bring it out. In modern times, drama is used to mock political administrations and lifestyles. Themes that have been heavily used centre on corruption, power, child abuse and health. This is meant to prick the audience’s conscience and open their eyes to the realities surrounding them. This practice was adopted in medieval times. Mimes help an audience to feel the character. Other styles used include soliloquies, monologues and flashbacks.
I totally agree with Harold Clurman’s comments that, “Theater is deep human communication through the mask of fable.” By turning fables, myths, plays and other works of art into theater productions, a lot is passed on to the audiences. Some plays are made as comedies but through the folly of the cast, important lessons are impacted. Tragedies teach about the dire consequences of engaging into some acts. Through drama, human negative features such as greed and lust are portrayed in a right way.
Fable is created to bring out the strengths and weaknesses in the society. By avoiding the direct mention of real names, it is left to the imagination of the audience. When you watch a play, you have the right to relate a character to anyone that you know of. At times, regimes have banned the screening of some plays. This is prevalent in communist countries where freedom of expression is curtailed by the authorities. Surprisingly, theater has thrived in such countries like China and North Korea.
In countries where democracy is embraced, communication through drama has had a strong impact on the society. Whether people have changed their behavior as a result, it is hard to tell. The most important thing is to pass the message. Developments in theater have given rise to the film industry especially in America. This may be seen as an affront on drama since cinematography does not necessarily educate. Theater has come a long way. Drama continues to be one of the strongest mediums of communication of the “deep human” things. The responsibility for adopting behavioral change rests on an individual. The fact the theater has educated, entertained and informed humanity is not debatable.