What is the purpose of theatre?

A little while ago (ten years to be precise) I auditioned for a very well known theatre company to be a part of one of their young adult productions. It involved writing a monologue about your take on the word “tragedy”. So desperate was I to work with this company that I quickly penned a short monologue about the trails and tribulations of performing in an amateur dramatics group. It was a funny little piece about always getting stuck in the chorus and the backstabbing between the leads. Hardly Pinter but a fairly jovial piece that (in my humble opinion) looked at what tragedy could mean without descending into tales of sorrow and woe.

I was beyond excited to be asked to audition for the company at their main site and travelled south to meet the other auditionees for the full day workshop. They all seemed pretty nice, if slightly more self assured than I was. We played some warm up games and it became obvious that a good 75% of them were currently at drama school so already knew the inner workings of ‘Zip Zap Boing’ and eye contact games that made me want to do anything but make eye contact.

It was then announced we would all audition in front of each other which immediately filled me with horror. One after another everyone stood up and delivered their monologue…they were all very earnest and soul bearing. I started to wonder why on earth I’d been asked along in the first place. After each monologue they were asked a question by the panel of three which consisted of an older, respected lady (naming no names) and two younger directors – one male and one female.

It was then time for me to get up and do my monologue. To say I was shitting it would be an understatement. I did the monologue as best I could, trying to be funny and desperately trying to remember it was them who had invited me to audition for them in the first place. I got a lacklustre clap at the end. Now time for the questioning:

Older, respected lady: Kate, what do you think the purpose of theatre is?

 Me (without hesitation): To entertain.

A gasp went around the room and the older, respected lady looked shocked whilst her two director friends smirked at each other. Then everyone started to snigger amongst themselves.

Older, respected lady: But don’t you think it is about so much more than that?

Me: Well…err…yeah…I mean it can…do other stuff like erm…

Director 1: Ok thank you Kate, you can sit down.

As you’re probably guessing, I didn’t get the gig. For years afterwards it annoyed me every time I thought of the reaction I’d got when I’d said entertainment was the purpose of theatre. Why had it been so shocking and laughable that I’d thought that? I reasoned I must have got it really badly wrong and that I needed to quickly find out what the agreed purpose of theatre was before talking to another theatre professional again.

However ten years later I still believe that the purpose of theatre is to entertain. I have been to lots of plays – West End and Fringe- where it is clear that at no point during the rehearsal process the director has looked at the production and thought to themselves ‘yes but will an audience be entertained by this?’. Entertainment to me means thinking of your audience not yourself.

I have been entertained by the saddest plays, the funniest plays, the most violent plays, the scariest plays, the silliest plays, the most frivolous plays and the most thought provoking plays. The key ingredient being that no matter what the subject, the production has been created with me, the audience member, in mind.

I would love to have the conversation with the old, respected lady from the theatre company again and ask her why she believed the purpose of theatre WASN’T to entertain? But alas, my seventeen-year-old self wasn’t quite so self-assured.

Any thoughts from the public at large? What do you think the purpose of theatre is? Give me your comments!

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