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Feature Article of Thursday, 11 October 2012

Columnist: Appiah-Adjei, Daniel

Drama And The Now: You Can Only Live Today

ORAL VILLAGE IDEAS
BY
Daniel Appiah-Adjei

Drama And The Now: You Can Only Live Today

In his treatises, “The Stage as a Moral Institution” and “On the Use of the Chorus in Greek Tragedy,” Schiller expresses his belief that theatre can and should play a didactic role because it is positive for society. Schiller works on the basic principle that “the creative process liberates humankind by allowing the spectator to see through sensuous matter and discover the free working of the mind”. Through the theatre, Schiller feels that moral instruction can be given, and that this process is a good thing. The reason Schiller believes the theatre is so powerful is that he feels that sight is always more powerful than description; thus, both the understanding of religion and laws can be heightened if the stage is used to display their truths. Drama is a mirror of the society and thus presents what goes on in the society. By the society, he refers to the individual and the onward collective approach to appreciating the themes and education from the live stage.
I have been very keen with the promptness of drama on stage which is seen as passing by on daily basis. Drama happens once and it is gone forever and ever. Like life, you cannot rewind the progression of the play on stage. If you do not hear a line or pay attention to an ongoing action, you miss it forever and ever. This makes actors and audiences more alert and accurate to the deal of dramatic unity at a particular place and time. The theatre is a business that embraces all the seriousness on earth. When sometimes, I see students who have paid moneys to enter the Efua Sutherland Drama Studio at the University of Ghana, Legon to watch drama performances with their mobile phones on, and sometimes seen browsing and watching performances at the same time, I ask myself; “what are these students/audiences doing in the theatre?”.
As dramatists and audiences, we should seize the moment! Opportunities are constantly either coming to us or by us. Today was once the future from which we expected so much in the past. Horatio Dresser said, “The ideal never comes. Today is ideal for him who makes it so.” Live for today. Don’t let what you have within your grasp today be lost entirely because the future intrigues you and the past disheartens you.
The role of drama as a veritable material in the study of history cannot be over-emphasized. While historical material serves as a source for dramatic creations, dramatic works whose plot are not historical also become relevant as documents for the future historical fact in many regards, especially, in the study of historiography. Shakespeare has preserved the English language through his plays. Doing your best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment. Drama asks a very big and profound question; “When can you live if not now?” All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today. Seneca said, “Begin at once to live” Ellen Metcalf remarked, “There are many people who are at the right place at the right time but don’t know it” Being at the Theatre is one of the best advantages that will happen in our lives, but we do not cherish it. It is beneficial to take time to plan even as you want to go to the theatre to watch a performance, but when we get there, a whole lot of distractions propel us to miss our intended action.
Marie Edgeworth declared,
There is no moment like the present. The man who will not execute his resolutions when they are fresh on him can have no hope from them afterwards: for they will be dissipated lost, and perished in the hurry and scurry of the world or sunk in the slough of indolence.
John Borroughs urged,
The lesson which life repeats and constantly reinforces is “Took underfoot”. You are always nearer than you think…The great opportunity is where you are. Do not despise your own place and hour.
The most important thing in our lives is what we are doing now; “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it”. This is the play the dramatist has provided; I will pay attention and enjoy every bit of it for, I miss it today, and I miss it forever.
Let’s ponder about the real value of today. What we are watching on stage denotes today. The story is here and now. It meanders into what Jonathan Swift said; “ May you live all the days of your life” The future that we long to and dream for begins today. Ralph Waldo Emerson said; “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.”
Most of our “life’s regrets” come from failing to act when we have the opportunity. Albert Dunning said, “Great opportunities come to all, but many do not know that they have met them. The only preparation to take advantage of them is to watch what each day brings”
Noah didn’t wait for his ship to come in- he built one. Few know when to rise to the occasion; most only know when to sit down. Many spend too much time dreaming of what’s coming, never realizing that a little of it arrives every day. The drama we watch every day provides some of life’s challenges and solutions but we do not realize them.
Ruth Schabacker nails it:
Every day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.
I will attempt to associate myself with this statement by saying: every play comes bearing its own education and moral lessons. Pay attention and grab your share.

Looks Same, But...
“The entire world is a stage”, said Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It .Today that seems particularly true as we are always acting in one way or the other. We are very interested in the Beast and the Beauty, Nigerian and Ghanaian films, Rosalinda and other media; perhaps, our experience in seeing live theatre where you will find my friend, Bensoo, Bertha B. Kankam and graduate mate Brew Riverson Jnr at their best may be limited.
Certainly, the aim of all types of theatre should be to help us understand ourselves better as we learn about other people and the world. Indeed, types of theatre differ, however, in their offerings.
Tragedy
Tragedy is considered to be the highest form of drama. Through the intensity of profound emotions, tragedy shows humans achieving a sense of nobility in their unswerving sacrifice and suffering.
Movies and videos at first glance seem similar to live theatre in that there is a script; there are actors, directors and backstage elements. The same plot is there too, as it is in the live stage version of the story.
However, the experience of seeing movies and attending plays are very different. When we see a film, we are watching pictures that have been arranged into series of scenes, usually shot out of sequence and shot many times before the final “take”. Every bit of it edited to control permanently what we see .Countless viewings give us the same production. The show is frozen in time.
In contrast, live theatre is transitory. It is always in the “now”. Such moments as it passes are gone forever, as true in life. Even if the play is given night after night, each performance is a unique experience because every night there is a different audience and varying degree of energy flow from the actors. Also, as an audience member watching a play, we can look at anything on stage we want to see. Our focus is not completely controlled by editing room as it is the film or television.
Television, too, differs from live theatre. It has invaded our homes with everything from sit-coms to national disasters, sporting events and wars. What we see in our living rooms often seems distorted as the events are presented with quick cuts and blatant commentary to accommodate the medium. Even though, real spill from TV into homes, we sometimes feel estrange from life around us, because there is no sense of community, no feeling of empathetic response that we experience in the live theatre.

Other Art Forms
Unlike other art forms such as painting, that forever remain constant, or novels which present the past reported in the present, theatre let us experience that which is happening right now. Actors speak as if for the first time. There is immediacy as theatre gives us a metaphoric statement of life. When we attend theatre, we have a sense of occasion, of sharing with others the essence of human condition.
Society mandates what modes of conduct are acceptable for various situations. When watching TV in your home, it is usually considered a right to talk out loudly during the programme, to go out and return whenever you want and even to eat in front of the set.
At rock concerts, as an audience member, you sometimes shout, stamp your feet, stand up and move around. But in live theatre that behaviour is inappropriate. The audience is expected to observe certain manners that will ensure an enjoyable evening for all in attendance. Let us consider the following theatre etiquette and be abreast with theatre norms.
1. Since theatre is a type of celebration with most people securing advance ticket and making special plans to attend, you must dress up for this festive occasion.
2. Arrive early to be seated and to read your printed programme. After the curtain is up most theatres will not seat people until a scene break so late-comers miss part of the show.
3. Switch off your mobile phone, beeper on your watch or pager. An unexpected beep or alarm not only disturbs those around you but actors as well.
4. Remove hats and caps so that those seated behind you can see.
5. Don’t put your feet on the seat-back in front of you whether or not someone is sitting there.
6. Avoid talking during the performance, it is discourteous to talk or whisper. Save comments until the intermission.
7. Do not take food or drink into the theatre. Also, avoid wrapping noisy candy objects or papers
8. Respect the play. Give it a chance to work its magic.
9. Don’t leave during the play except for an emergency.
10. At the end don’t leave until the house lights are turned. It is a bad manner to slip out early.
11. To show that you enjoyed the performance, applaud at the end.
12. Do not give a standing ovation for every play. Reserve such tributes for truly outstanding performance.
13. Do not send flowers or gifts to the cast on stage. Instead, have such items delivered backstage.
14. If you sincerely enjoyed the performance, write a congratulatory note to the director and the group. You will make their day.

Any good play should do more than to please the audience. The theatre can be more than a place of laughter and tears. The entertainment and enjoyment can have a broader meaning. Live stage theatre has a responsibility that goes beyond only entertainment.
A play must contribute to the growth of the spectator. The impact upon the audience should have some lasting value. We must remember that it is being witnessed or experienced once.
Martial warned, “Tomorrow, life is too late; live today” Wayne Dyer observes, “Now is all we have. Everything that has ever happened, anything that is ever going to happen to you, is just a thought”. Today, well lived, will prepare you for both the opportunities and obstacles of tomorrow. “The best preparation for the future is the present well seen to and the last duty well done”
By His Grace, I shall be back
October, 2012

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