Aristotle’s Poetics is famous for formulating and organizing the six elements which lay the foundation for drama, specifically tragedy. However, by no means is this hierarchal structure the only method utilized when creating theatre. Like everything, theatre is subjective and although there is no one concrete way to construct theatre, it is fundamentally important that everyone attempting to do so first possess a strong understanding of what theatre is.
It is my personal philosophy that theatre is simply the connection and communication between an actor and an audience. These are the only two necessary ingredients to formulate theatre. All of the other elements serve to strengthen this connection by 1.) luring the audience into the theatre and 2.) maintaining audience attention. It is therefore crucial, when preparing to make theatre, that one asks the essential question–– what does today’s audience want? While Aristotle’s formula for making drama may have sufficiently addressed the desires and needs of the people of his time, we cannot truthfully aver that these elements best suit modern audiences. Change accompanies time and audiences today lead a life drastically different than those of ancient Greece and consequentially have disparate wants and needs.
One consistent desire of all humans is the yearning for social interaction. Relationship connections with friends and family are essential to mankind in that they allow man to temporarily forget the disturbing fact that he is utterly alone; we are all born into solitary existence and we all live and die in isolation. Man’s inherent longing for sacred connections prompts him to sympathize with his fellow human being. Theatre’s essential duty is to satisfy this desperate need with complex, vulnerable characters; this blasts character to the top of my list of importance. Characters in theatre, and in all forms of literature and some might even argue art, allow the audiences to relate, connect, and feel for the people on stage. This connection and sympathy allows for catharsis, a feeling that ultimately replaces the empty void of loneliness we all inherit. The sense of completion that accompanies catharsis is potentially addicting and keeps audiences needing more.
Characters also mirror audiences’ lives on stage, allowing viewers the opportunity to self reflect and enhance their own sense of self. A common idea theorizes that all works of literature and art are their creator’s attempt to answer the question––who am I? We all seek the solution to this mystery and the enlightenment that accompanies it. By paralleling the audiences’ lives with the characters on stage and by assisting viewers with recognizing personal identity, spectators leave the theatre with an elevated, enlightened state of being which will again keep them coming back for more.
I declare plot to be the second most important element on my list. Plot can also provide catharsis through the story’s struggle, resolution, message, and theme. A successful plot maintains the audience’s attention throughout the production and encourages them to think critically and explore human nature, along with informing, teaching, and inspiring audiences to change. Plot allows for communication among characters that often share similar struggles and overcome them together. Witnessing such collaboration and triumph sparks onlookers’ alliance with their intimate relations while subtracting from their impending desolation. Plot can also be utilized as a clever tool to entertain which brings us to our third element, spectacle.
Humans love entertainment, however, with vast improvements in technology, entertainment is readily available in many forms and at cheap costs. Theatre must compete with these forms of amusement. Since most professional theatre productions cost more than most forms of entertainment, such as seeing a movie at the cinema, it is vital that performing arts compensate by executing extraordinary spectacle and ensuring the audience that their money is well spent. Productions should incorporate modern technology or the audiences will bore of traditional, banal spectacle. Audiences yearn to leave their boring routine lives by being shocked, amazed, and invigorated. Spiderman on Broadway is one example of how modern theatre can utilize technology to its advantage. Even the Broadway production of Ghost incorporated actors walking through walls on stage. An underlying motive for creating theatre today is simply to make bank; incorporating fancy spectacle and heightening overall theatrical experience allows producers to raise ticket prices.
Fourth on my list is music. Although I originally despised musicals for their unnecessary and distracting musical numbers, I have since realized the importance of music and have gained a greater appreciation for lyrical verse. Music generates an emotionally charged atmosphere, leaving audiences feeling enlivened and energized, while allowing them to be more receptive to the struggles on stage. Through song, characters bear their heart and soul while expressing their greatest concerns and sentiments; music makes characters vulnerable and elevates the audience’s level of sympathy, association, and emotional investment in that character, once again leading to catharsis.
Like music, thought and speech aids characters in announcing their deepest fascinations. However, such thoughts are not as deep or complex as they are in musical numbers. Speech tends to imitate natural conversation and people do not normally engage in openly announcing and publicizing their everyday feelings to the world. Speech requires effort from the audience who must listen and attempt to understand the meaning hidden within conversations. It is essential playgoers to actively participate in interpreting conversations, however, to do so they must first be energized and affected by the previous elements. Without character, plot, spectacle, and music, followers lack energy, concern, and desire to interpret what is evidently being said.
Lastly, dialogue and language is of some importance when bringing to life a theatrical story. The diction chosen, and the method in which characters express themselves through language, affect aspects of character, plot, music, and thought. However, language alone cannot provide catharsis nor create meaning or experience. Language merely enhances previous imperative elements. Still, one might argue that lyrical dialogue, so often found in Shakespeare, may substitute for music in that it too captivates and charges atmosphere.
Aristotle’s Poetics has served as a stable blueprint, aiding creators of tragedy for centuries. Although I disagree with Aristotle on the levels of importance of each element, I do credit each element with having enough importance to contribute to a quality work of theatre. Aristotle has absolutely helped me shape my own definition of good storytelling and has guided me in stringing together my own formula for creating meaningful theatre today.
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