On a dark and stormy night in Sydney a few years ago, my friend and I had nothing to do.
I was refusing to wear jackets at the time – or I was too poor to own one – so sitting indoors sounded like a good idea. I turned to my friend, after I’d refused her proposal to see The Lego Movie, and said:
“When was the last time you went to the theatre?”
“Never. And I don’t plan to start. Uh-uh.”
Amy explained that everything she knew about theatre – from what she had been taught in Year 7 drama class through to the theatre “types” she’d recently met – had led her to believe that, well, it seemed very self-involved. Wanky. Boring.
“It’s not for normal people.”
“Well, you know, I’m a theatre type,” I replied.
“No,” she said. “You’re just kind of loud.”
I ignored that last comment. But I understood where she was coming from otherwise. Not everyone wants to spend a night watching people pretend to be something they’re not, whether they’re lamenting witchcraft in Salem or simply just waiting for some dickhead who never turns up (rude).
I went on.
“Theatre is entertaining. It’s like a movie!” (Great points on my behalf).
“No. Theatre is a one-man show, probably in verse, with crying and yelling and dim lighting and most definitely a thick layer of historical sexism pulsing throughout. And then you find out at the end that the whole thing’s a metaphor for capitalism or something. Let’s go and see The Lego Movie instead.”
Two hours later, Amy had won the argument. But it did make me wonder.
How did Amy have such a skewed perception of something that I really love? Am I pretentious? Am I self-involved? Am I the man in the one-man show?
“No,” Amy reiterated.
“You’re just loud.”
Where does this reputation of theatre come from? It is an extraordinary medium that has stood the test of time. A mouthpiece for the unheard, a cultural sketchbook, an environment for communal catharsis.
But perhaps that’s the problem. What theatre should be known for is it good stories that are well-told. It shouldn’t have an obligation to be anything more.
Particularly now. With so much else going on – streaming, podcasts, ADHD – is it any wonder that the general population uninvolved in the industry has little inclination to watch an hour and a half of people gallivanting around on stage? Often under the looming expectation to politically engage, to change, or grow, or learn? It doesn’t help that you can’t leave or look at your phone. The horror.
But theatre isn’t that important anymore, which is why that expectation need not exist. It has lost its place as a primary medium of communication. It doesn’t hold the same power. It no longer has the same status.
What value, then, does it retain? What does it do that The Big Bang Theory can’t?
Theatre is unlike any other form of narrative storytelling exclusively because you’re there witnessing it as a community. It’s terrifying, but glorious (especially when you consider that anything could go wrong). What emerges from that collective act of audience is trust in the theatre-maker; the idea that if you follow us you will be rewarded. This “reward” takes on many forms, but first and foremost it is the creation of a meaningful experience for that community. And that’s entertainment, baby. It doesn’t have to change you.
“At least it was entertaining.” Something I’ve often overheard in theatre foyers or the bar after a show. It’s code for, “It wasn’t a worthwhile theatrical experience, but I enjoyed myself.” In fact, “entertainment” seems to have become a dirty word. To call a show “entertaining” casts it off as “popcorn” or “philistine theatre”. I’m wondering whether it is this attitude that puts people off coming. Worried that they’re in for a night of moral grandstanding or a navel-gazing avant-garde monologue set in a cardboard box or something weird.
Are we too tangled up in the aesthetics and politics and hierarchies of theatre that we’ve forgotten that the primary point of theatre is to entertain – and that there is certainly no shame in doing so?
On February 26, KXT bAKEHOUSE will throw risk out the window and give JackRabbit Theatre the keys to their theatre in Kings Cross.
For three months we’re putting on productions for the sake of entertainment and storytelling. We’re trying to balance a sense of excitement between those who love theatre and those who are yet to engage with what theatre actually is.
Wrath, our first main stage show, is a rollercoaster of dark humour and office politics. Written by Liam Maguire, Wrath promises an unapologetic 60-minute shock to the system in its language and style. This will be followed by Michael McStay’s Leopardskin, a fast-paced, detective screwball comedy, and A Little Piece of Ash, the incredibly heart-wrenching yet humorous work from up-and-coming star Megan Wilding.
Then, in collaboration with the talented minds behind Little Eggs who brought you the outstanding Pinocchio at Sydney Fringe in 2018, JackRabbit will also be producing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a devised theatrical re-telling of the classic Coleridge poem.
Overall, for our three months we’ve programmed eight full shows. They’re all under 75 minutes and they’re cheap. Some are funny. Some are sad. Some are just rude. But by putting on this many shows, in this amount of time, with a focus on entertainment, we’re hoping to appeal to the people that have never given theatre a chance.
Over the past few years, Jackrabbit has been proud to build up a raucous, committed community (so raucous, in fact, that the licensee from Kings Cross Hotel has given us reign over the theatre, rooftop, and the new space on level four of the hotel, by virtue of the drinking capabilities of our followers during our 2018 production of Tonsils and Tweezers). This is a community not just of actors, writers, producers and directors, but of people who are bored with Sydney’s nightlife and have been looking for something to do. They’ve followed us from theatre to theatre. They’re people who want to be entertained and join in a sense of community on a night out.
I was disappointed in how very few of my social circles had seen the incredible line up of shows put on in Sydney last year, including The Flick (Outhouse Theatre), The Harp in the South (STC) and the incredibly understated Yen (New Ghost Theatre Company at our new home, KXT). These shows were for theatre-goers and non-theatre goers alike. They were as entertaining as much as they were poignant. Theatre might not ever reach the same level of importance it once had, but Sydney theatre is at its peak right now, and seems ready to change the stereotype. To make theatre an event at all times, not just on a rainy day.
And that’s what JackRabbit are doing.
So bring your theatre-hating friends, families and colleagues down to KXT and let us entertain them.
And if you’re reading this Amy, I’ll see you there, too.