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A Call for Revolutionary Theater

Alexis Scheer cries out for a meeting of minds and an artistic uprising. logo

Sidewalk art by Sarah V. Smithton
(© Alexis Scheer)
This week I started rehearsal for the show I'm assistant directing here on The Boston Conservatory mainstage, William Congreve's Way of the World. In the time I spent over the weekend standing at the copy machine I thought a lot about community. We all know community is important in the theater. But why?

Revolution. It takes a community to start a revolution. Whether we're working on Hamlet or How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, we have to look at our work with rebellious eyes. We have to dare to revolutionize the theater we put up. If we don't then we're not creating theater, we're creating a representation of theater.

Theatre is the most existential art. It lives in the moment and then dies. An experience is created that can't ever be copied. And this is the beauty of theater, the surprise. Even if you've seen the same production a hundred times, you still anticipate the fact that at any moment something unexpected can happen. Theater is alive.

How is the material I'm working on revolutionary? I like to think about this whenever I work on a show, no matter in what capacity. Because it doesn't matter how old a piece is, it once started off as a new work. It was born with the intention to say something new. This is why I love seeing Shakespeare. Our society lives for revolutionizing his plays, approaching them with a fresh spirit and giving them a new life. I love to read director's notes because they always harp on why the text is important now. And making our work relevant is crucial because it's what allows the audience to join our world.

These revolutions can happen anywhere. You just need a community. You need people that you can call home. You know when you meet artists who just "get it"? These are the people you always want to be around, to learn from and to share your ideas with. It's important to surround yourself with these people because more often than not they are the ones who will help you get work. Everyone knows someone who knows someone. But most importantly, they will be your cheerleaders. The people who pick you up when you're down and push you forward when you fall back. I don't know where I'd be without the people who advocate for my work and me.

Now this doesn't mean you should completely ignore every person you don't agree with. Actually, these people turn out to teach you just as much. There's an old piece of advice: "read books by people you disagree with." At early stages of our training we often soak up everything like it's the gospel. But as we grow, we become exposed to the wide variety of techniques and ideas out there, and we are afforded the ability to pick and choose what we agree with. I had a great acting teacher at New World School of the Arts, Elena Maria Garcia, who says that conservatory training is like a buffet; you pick up what you like and leave behind the things you don't. But it's a buffet, so you can try it all!

So we turn away from what we don't believe in to face what do believe in. And right now I'm looking at assisting Christopher James Webb on Way of the World. It's my second time assisting Chris (I had a life changing experience working on Naomi Iizuka's Polaroid Stories with him last year), and I couldn't be more thrilled! Something I am particularly excited about with this process is the strict dress code that we all must adhere to. And when I walked in wearing my rehearsal skirt and heels and stood next to Chris who was in a tie and jacket it all made sense. We're here to work. We're here to play in this new world. I felt this great sense of dignity and elevation, like what we're doing is important enough to dress up for. What we're doing has value.

It's the start of a revolution.