Since 2020, I’ve been thinking about the idea of “shared breath.” It’s the idea that you share the breath of others in the same room and same experience. When the lockdowns came, theatre became almost impossible to do. We were no longer allowed to have an audience, be close to each other, even show our faces. The idea of “shared breath” was not only tossed out the window, it was demonized. Another person’s breath can kill you! So, we hid behind our masks, we stayed home and watched Netflix, and we pretended to do theatre on Zoom, confined to our little boxes with no chance of intimacy.
One of the fundamental ways that theatre is different from film is that it is live. The audience is in the same room as the actors, sharing the same breath and air, and every night is different. You can feel the energy in the room. As an actor, you know when the audience is with you or against you, because you can feel it. The energy in the air is palpable. In an emotional moment, you can feel the reaction all around you. Having directed multiple plays, this is how I know I’ve done my job. Sitting in the audience I can tell whether I’ve captured their attention or not. I am sharing breath with complete strangers and it is amazing.
I wanted to start this blog to begin to put down my ideas about the healing aspects of the performing arts. All the arts really, but my experience is mainly in music and theatre. I believe that our society is screaming out for the spiritual and that the arts can fill that void. Problem is, the arts have been co-opted as a propaganda wing of the state. I want to take them back. I want the human race to take them back, because they are ours.
The arts are how we reflect on the world, how we dream about the future. They help us come together to see ideas and concepts larger than our day to day, and begin to make sense of the larger world around us. A piece of music can make you feel the range of human emotions without saying a word. A play can show you the intimate thoughts of people you might otherwise never have a chance to meet A painting can invoke visceral anger or intense sadness. You can’t hide behind mundane small talk when you are confronted with art. Art shows us what it is to be human, in a vast and intimate way.
I have spent the last two years noticing the importance of sharing breath with others. Being unmasked in a dark theatre, watching a talented performer pour their heart out on the stage is heaven to me, and for a long time, the right to have that intimate human moment was taken away. Safety became the more important virtue, and I believe humanity is forever changed. Now that things are beginning to get back to a semblance of normal, I look around and still see so many people in fear. Afraid to get sick, afraid to die, afraid to feel their feelings, afraid to share breath with others. This isn’t human. Shared breath is human. Laughing with friends, intimate conversations, and yes, even dark theatres packed with strangers, learning what it is to be human. These shared-breath moments are what make life worth living.