November’s Theatre Blog Of The Month is ‘Theatre Therapy’ which is run by theatre fan Alison Willman. Alison has written an exclusive blog post for London Theatre Direct about the power of theatre and why it makes some of us more teary than others...
The Beauty Of Theatre
“After reading this, now I know why you were crying so much during the show.” This latest comment on my blog – regarding the last ever Rock of Ages show during which I cried at least twenty times – has got me thinking. What is it about the theatre that brings your emotions right to the surface?
I am not a “weepy” person. I don’t cry at babies or kittens or those “Myles would ask you for help if he could” adverts, but I have cried during more than my fair share of West End shows. Not just the tear-jerkers like Les Miserables, but at Wicked, Jersey Boys, We Will Rock You... the list goes on and on. So what is it about these shows that have me sniffling into my Kleenex?
Let’s start with the obvious – Les Miserables. If you have not cried at some point during this musical then you must be made of stone. The last time I saw the show was in October at Queen’s Theatre in the West End and I made a point of looking at the crowd around me. There was the loved up couple in front nibbling each other’s ears (seriously?!) the burly businessman next to me who proclaimed loudly that he had been dragged here kicking and screaming by his wife. Then there was myself and my best friend Sarah. At 19 and 21 we were at the younger end of the spectrum, but we were probably two of the most excited people in the theatre.
I can pretty much pinpoint the moments in that musical when the tears will start flowing for me – the moment when adorable little Gavroche gets shot, Javert’s soliloquy before he plunges to his death, “Bring Him Home” (strangely I didn’t cry this time – I just wasn’t feeling it.) As I steeled myself for these moments, on came Carrie Hope Fletcher singing “On My Own” – and Sarah promptly started bawling her eyes out. I looked at her with a mixture of amusement and confusion. This bit? Really? I mean yes its emotional and everything but hardly tear-worthy. Then came Javert’s death and, as I clutched Sarah and sobbed into her shoulder, not one tear fell onto her cheek. When I had recovered I looked around the theatre – nobody else was crying!
It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Whenever I go to see Wicked I resign myself that, come the end of “Defying Gravity” I will have mascara all over my face. It’s the raw emotion and the crescendo of the music that never fails to put a lump into my throat. As Louise Dearman (my latest Elphaba) belted out that final note the tears were falling freely. I was totally enthralled and literally on the edge of my seat as the music swelled and the act came to a close. As the lights came on I turned to my Mum – who was laughing at me.
“Why are you crying?!” she chuckled.
“Because it’s... and she... and the music... why aren’t YOU crying?!”
I was in shock. How could anybody fail to be moved to tears by that amazing piece of theatre? But, as I looked around, I was, once again, the only one in tears. Really?!
Thankfully, it’s not just me - after asking some friends to share their weepy theatre moments I found that the majority had had their own moments. This next instance was sent in from a trusted friend who would prefer to remain anonymous. “When I saw Phantom a few weeks back with Geronimo - well let's just say I have never cried so much and I've seen the show 20 times! For the first time ever, I cried at Music of the Night. It has always been a song that moved me - but I think it was the combination of the build up of anticipation and over excitement at seeing Geronimo (who I just adore), and the fact that I knew he would be amazing, but he just did it so well - it was better than I ever imagined it could be, and my expectations were ridiculously high for him as it was - he surpassed them all!” So sometimes it’s not just the song, it’s the circumstances too.
I had my own experience of this at the We Will Rock You cast change. Emotions were already running high as the audience prepared to say goodbye to the 2012/2013 cast. As Rachel John stepped up for her solo, “Only the Good Die Young” I got goosebumps. This moment in the show had always been very moving, but it had never got to me like it got to other members of the audience. Many a time I had looked around after the song to see people shaking with emotion, while I didn’t shed a tear. However, this time I couldn’t stop the tears and, finally, I got the point.
Yes, there are specific moments in certain musicals that are bound to make many people in the theatre sob their hearts out, but the more meaningful moments are the ones where you are so caught up in the passion and emotion of the song that you feel every single emotion that the performer is feeling. This is what happened to me at Wicked – I was so caught up in the moment where Elphaba realises she is alone, that I was crying for her. I believed that this poor girl on stage had just had her dreams shattered and felt completely lost, and it struck a chord.
This is the beauty of the theatre for me, and why I will never ever try to hide the tears that are, for me, the mark of a truly emotive, captivating performance. The theatre is unique in that it requires your full attention at all times and there are no distractions - there are no horrible little twelve year olds talking loudly and throwing popcorn, or people constantly texting throughout the performance. This mutual respect between performer and spectator creates an atmosphere that allows you to become fully immersed in the action on the stage, and all of the passion and excitement that you see on the stage will naturally transfer to the audience, creating an emotional bond that will bring people back to the theatre again and again.
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