The Value of Local in a Global World

*In late March, the League of Chicago Theatres asked Artistic Director Brian Golden to contribute a blog post on any theatre thoughts of his choosing to its blog. This is reprinted at the courtesy of the League.

You finish a nagging task at the office and reward yourself by checking Facebook, earning instant access to news and photo updates from your friends and “friends” all over the world. A co-worker mentions the devastating earthquake in Japan, so you check in at Huffington Post, and within moments, see dozens of tragic images from the human drama unfolding in Sendai, and then pop over to see more imagery from the protests in Libya and the revolution in Egypt and offer a sympathetic Tweet to your 400-or-so followers worldwide. A friend emails a link that promises to be a short video of a precocious singing baby in Poland, and you are swept on an hour-long journey that covers YouTube, Vimeo, the adorable Polish singing baby, behind the scenes 3-D Bieber footage, and over half of the world’s most talented kittens.

You are connected. But is this connection?

As news and technology companies have developed cheaper and cheaper means to assault provide us with images, video and language from all over the world, our level of exposure to the stories and sights of human drama thousands of miles away has increased dramatically. In the past fifty years, our American engagement with the once-impossible reality of instant, global human interaction has moved swiftly from scarcity to accessibility to sheer, unapologetic abundance. Which is to say: the experiences have become less valuable. And as the mountain of interactions grows, each particular Facebook status, Libyan news clip and adorable kitten link becomes less significant, less memorable, more disposable, more forgettable, more common.

Let me tell you something which is not common, but in our global information age, is rare. Hearing a good story, told clearly and imaginatively, about the street where you live, or the neighborhood in which you grew up, or the corner you pass by every day is a rare thing. Seeing a story created and presented not for a million YouTube hits, but for you and your neighbors is a rare thing. Connecting with strangers and storytellers for ninety minutes in a comfortable, intimate dark room while the phones are on silent and the email can wait and all of your lives are on stage is a rare thing. Feeling the pangs of truth from a play created at a cozy building down the block, written by a woman who lives right over there, about the realities and fantasies of the world in which you sleep and work and dream and eat is a rare thing.

The future of theatre is local.

Shakespeare put the stories of kings and queens on stage because it was his audience’s only chance to see them. August Wilson introduced us to generations of African-Americans from Pittsburgh’s Hill District because, for so long, we had decided not to see them. And now, the future of theatre is and must be the act of reintroducing us to those we are often too busy statusing, Tweeting, and downloading to see: the ones we work with, the ones we live near, the ones we pass by every single day.

As the production and transmission of global information becomes cheaper, the theatrical experience that enriches a connection with our daily lives becomes more valuable. And the experiences we all share in the dark, be it you talking about our city while I listen, me talking about our neighborhood while you listen, or the two of us talking about our lives in this time and place together, are the very definition of community.

Those moments of community we create, these local kisses we share under the umbrella of a global world are the future of theatre. I hope to share them with you.

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