There is an old expression which I love dearly – “Standing on the shoulders of Giants.” It is used to pay tribute to those who have paved the way before us, making it possible for us to achieve even greater things. Although he didn’t coin the phrase, (there is great debate over who did) it was famously used by Issac Newton in a letter to one of his contemporary rivals, “You have added much in several ways . . . . . if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
The world of the Theatre is no different. We are constantly learning and evolving, challenged and inspired by our rivals and our collaborators. And as the world changes in untold ways, we are also challenged to re-invent ourselves and our artform.
But through it all, we would do well to remember those who came before us. Those who paved the way and risked social isolation and even imprisonment in some cases. It is hard for us to imagine a time when police would arrest actors for swearing during a production or playwrights being imprisoned for speaking out about regimes. These things are still occurring in other countries today but we are incredibly lucky to have creative freedom of expression.
But the giant’s we have learned from are not just on an international level, but more personally, on a local level. The School Drama Teacher who encourages their students to believe they should pursue a professional career, even though in their own experience, they were never encouraged to do the same. The local amateur Director who may not have been able to live out their dream of a professional career, but who sets new standards for the local amateur scene. Or of course, the crazy French university lecturer who single-handedly changed so many lives and challenged a community to raise the bar on what it means to be regionally based artists.
While so much has changed, at its heart, theatre remains the same. We are still telling stories we feel are important to share, to communicate to our audiences in an effort to learn from our shared history, just as the Greeks were. It is only the tools that have changed. I’m sure the Greeks or Shakespeare would marvel at the use of projection and moving lights, but ultimately, they are simply the tools we now use to achieve the same goal. The future is important but so is the past. And what amazing giants the world of the Theatre has and how glorious it is to stand on their shoulders.
Written by Terri Brabon