Theater is Everywhere: Even in the Sky

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  • Kaeli Heffner

Being a college theater student means that I have spent every season of the past few years, either fully immersed in theater, or not at all. At school, I’m constantly surrounded by theatrical people making theatrical things under the tutelage of some of the brightest theatrical minds I have ever encountered. Every day is scene study, dramaturgy, music theory, ballet, Shakespeare, audition prep. Every spare second is spent reading about the thing, writing about the thing, and doing the thing. So, everything around me just becomes deliciously theatrical by default. 

At home, I mostly work at a grocery store, drive through Dunkin’, and walk through the woods. 

But, the occasional removal of my steady theater IV drip doesn’t mean that the theater isn’t still running through my veins. I literally find drama everywhere I go, whether it’s in my own exceptionally dramatic behavior, or in the universal human habits, I notice which are sneakily Tony-worthy. I’m spending my summer in my hometown, and not doing very many theatrical things. But upon returning home, I was almost immediately struck by a rather intrusive recognition of drama in my life. 

I don’t remember when my mom first told me about the symbolism of butterflies in my family. For her and my grandma, butterflies represent my great-grandmother, who I never met, fluttering by to say I’m here. In this reincarnation of a woman who has influenced me so much by building the two most important women in my life, I find something even more profound. When I come across a butterfly, I know that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. I see butterflies at only the most perfect times; it really feels staged. They appear when reconnecting with old friends, on dates with perfectly star-crossed lovers, and while spending priceless afternoons with my family. 

Now, tell me, could this BE any more theatrical? 

On one of my most recent encounters with a butterfly, I realized that the way we mark objects, creatures, and people with deeper meanings is dramatic gold, and it’s not at all reserved for dramatic people. Even the most reserved and traditionally left-brained people mark things, and I would argue that this act of marking is so theatrical that it makes a dramatist of all of us. We dramatize things to allow ourselves to step out of reality and into a world of possibilities, where we can suspend what we’ve always known and expand our tiny human brains. 

When we mark objects with emotion, or even accept someone else’s marking of an object with some kind of significance, we are suspending what we’ve known (for example, the definition of an object or a person that you might find in a textbook), and expanding our emotional perspectives by breathing an imaginative life into these objects. This is literally the meaning of life in the theater: suspension of disbelief and expansion of perspective. We (well, theater-goers), mark theatrical spaces with the symbolic meaning that allows for this necessary feedback loop. 

By this logic, I think that the process of using symbols in our day-to-day lives is inextricably related to what happens inside of a theater. In the case of our too-short human lives, we allow ourselves to open up to some kind of a higher power that will guide us through whatever we’re going through, just as “theatre magic” guides us through the human experience when we see shows (woah...could she GET any loftier?). 

But, for real, I think we all allow ourselves to get a little emotional and cathartically dramatic when we look for these little guiding signs in our lives. I think it’s kind of necessary to do this because, at the end of the day, we’re all just looking for some kind of help with this crazy life thing. It doesn’t always come from a night at the theater, or even (gasp!) from spooky self-reflective ghost dreams or real-life fairy godmothers with the perfect life-changing advice.

More often than not, it comes from the tiny things that we endow with personal meaning. These tiny things act as guiding forces in our lives, similar to the way that, when the theater gods align, we can take just one word or note from a show and understand a considerable aspect of the human experience.