The Wholly Human Art


The ultimate goal of Cold Reads International
is to create a public demand
for affordable, quality theatre, live on stage

What follows is a jumble of redundant notes on why live theatre well-performed is essential to the human experience. Once the argument for cold reading is complete, this larger issue will become another blog, Suspending Disbelief.

This argument makes the case for the notion that of all the ways we human beings spend our idle time, only Drama, live on stage, is quintessentially humanpeople playing people in a world imagined by a person and constructed by a crew of people, telling stories about people, doing things those people do, to entertain and benefit an audience of people.

It also explains the transcendental magic that happens when a well-made play’s well-played, and we willingly suspend our disbelief, allowing actors in the here and now to be transformed as other people somewhere else. In this regard, it’s like religious faith—forsooth; it sprang from pagan rites; in sooth, in function, form, and purpose, they remain the same. The one distinction is focus: one on God, the other Humankind.

It’s also like spectator sports—the emotional. adrenal surge when our team scores a goal. Or like a high school prom, a funeral or wedding, a political campaign—name any real-life drama and compare it to theatrical performance. The only difference is the focus.

When a well-made play’s well-played, it sinks into our collective conscience, and it takes us all into another world, where life has meaning; we’re mesmerized, and we walk away more human than we were.

The Real McCoy

A Human Need

Without theatre,
well-written and well-played,
humankind is inhumane.

Preposterous? Absurd?
Have you ever seen a well-made play well played?

When really good actors, well-directed, perform great plays for an appreciative full house, it’s better than the Super Bowl.

It doesn’t happen often.

This page and related posts presume a time when it does, and argue the revolutionary notion that it’s something we all need.

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

What happens when you watch a play? Two things at once. Actors perform on a stage in present time, and characters engage in conflict somewhere else, out of time. You know the mundane truth, but when the play’s well played, the artifice engages your thoughts and feelings, affects you on a higher plane—and you believe them both! Trapped between two worlds, vulnerable, uncertain, susceptible to transformation.

This is the mystic essence of theater as religion. Like the body and blood of Christ: you recognize the real-world truth of the charade, but if you don’t believe the art as well—if it doesn’t carry you beyond mundane reality—you have no business being there; either the play is very bad (or badly played) or you’re incapable of appreciating it. Some people can’t be mesmerized.

A well-made play well played, like a church revival, captures our collective spirit, takes us in our minds somewhere and tells a story that, if we don’t believe, we willingly suspend our disbelief, become involved, laugh, cry, learn.

Why Theatre?

Most of the reasons covered in Why Read Plays? apply (in spades) to being there. Aristotle’s Plot, Character, Thought, Language, Mood—plus Spectacle, the element that makes the others come alive for many people all at once, all “willingly suspending disbelief” for the occasion, mystically transported to another time and place, where we see the world through a playwright’s eyes. It’s magic!

So why do we avoid it like the plague? Two very good reasons and a raft of Lame Excuses. Granted, it costs too much, and most of what we see is disappointing, but if we don’t go, it won’t get any better.

Religious Roots

Culturally, it’s halfway between religion, from which it sprang, and war (or spectator sports), to which it descends, where living actors (priestly players) entertain large audiences (congregations, crowds) in playhouses (churches, stadia) with words and actions from a script (scripture, playbook) that engage and arouse our thoughts and feelings.

Through the Ages

From the beginning of western culture, theatre has flourished and defined the best of times.  It catalyzed the Golden Age of Greece, revived the medieval Catholic Church, epitomized the English Renaissance and the Splendid Century of France, and introduced the world to Darwin, Freud, and Marx (among other things).

Between those times (the Holy Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, the Hundred Years War—all times of war—the Protestant Reformation, the Great Awakening, Hitler, Stalin, Donald Trump) it languished—or was banned, reviled, and ridiculed.

The Wholly Human Art

Of all the countless ways we humans pass our idle time, only theatre, live on stage, “holds the mirror up to nature,” as the saying goes. In short, it shows us human beings using every aspect of themselves to engage our collective imagination in a wholly human exploration of our one unarguable common bond—humanity.

All the other arts abstract the human. Performers act, sing, dance, play music; visual artists draw, paint, sculpt; writers work with words, composers with notes, architects with the laws of physics. Put them all together with directors, supervisors, carpenters, electricians, seamstresses, backstage workers, hairdressers and make-up artists, fundraisers, advertisers, ticket-sellers, and ushers, and you have the collaborative village we call Theatre. 

As for all our other pastimes, in the main, their goal is to distract us from ourselves, divide us into sects, define us by what we look like, what we do, what side we’re on. Athletes glorify aggression; public speakers prey on minds—motion pictures are just that, for all their cgi-reality.  Only Theatre brings people together to affirm our common bond.

A Godless Religion

From its roots in the rites of the Greek god Dionysus, theatre has always been religious in all ways but one—theatre deals with human beings, here and now; religion is for God (or gods) and the Afterlife. Both are virtually identical in form: an audience (congregation) gathers in a theatre (house of worship) to see and hear actors (priests) interpret words from plays (holy scriptures) created by a playwright (god), and discover the meaning of life (salvation). Both make use of costumes, props, and scenery, music. There’s even a mystic spirituality (catharsis) when a well-made play’s well played.

Moreover, theatre has always been either intimately entwined with or violently rejected by religion. When they’re in sync, they make the world a better place. Greek drama defined the Golden Age; church drama in the Middle Ages paved the way for Shakespeare. But when Roman mimes made Jesus the butt of their jokes, the Catholic Emperor Theodosius excommunicated all actors, banned all public performances, and for the next thousand years, throughout the Christian world, plays were proscribed by canon law.

Jews and Christians (but not Muslims) sometimes sometimes go to plays; some actors go to church. Both tell a story, draw us in with spectacle, and argue a way of life—one temporal, the other eternal. Doing both strikes a balance, Church-goers choose to believe what they cannot see; theatre-goers willfully suspend their disbelief in what they can. To suspend disbelief is to believe, yes?


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Reading Plays with Friends for Fun and Cultural Enrichment

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