As I look back on 2012, it is clear that the best theatre of the year went largely unnoticed by the masses. Again. Not unseen though. That’s the difference. This year most of us saw a scene from this show, if not live then on the news or saw it trending on Twitter. No it was seen by many, and felt by all. Rave reviews! Our national audience just didn’t have the ability to let it affect them beyond spectatorship. So we applauded the actors and got back to work, back to business as usual.
This show took place on the world stage last January, when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, recovering from a debilitating assassination attempt, returned to Capitol Hill to formally tender her resignation to the Speaker of the House. It was Shakespearean tragedy! Triumph in the face of evil. Pure goodness over pure badness. Everyone, and I mean everyone felt the power of this scene. There was not a dry eye in the House. The thunderous standing ovation needed no musical score to heighten it. It was real LIVE theatre. It was the only moment of 2012 where I remember feeling that everyone was truly united. Everyone. Red and Blue alike. And for about 5 minutes it felt warm and good and safe. Like in the past.
I remember how it felt that day almost a year ago seeing far right politicians giving Giffords a heart-felt standing ovation. No politics, not even grandstanding for the cameras. This was just humans coming together on something. It felt comforting. Like when push comes to shove, we can stop the bickering and come together. Even those radical nutjobs who had previously defended putting gun crosshairs on an online map on Giffords’ Arizona district with the instructions to STOP HER… even those right-wing wackos wept openly at watching this courageous woman once again rising above the nastiness of Washington.
Nobody cried harder than Speaker Boehner, who is often teased for crying at the drop of a hat. But no liberals would make fun of him this time. He helped Giffords tenderly when she stumbled on the steps and he burst into tears without shame and nobody dared to mock him later on MSNBC. No. This moment deserved real tears, from all of us. It is what real theatre is made of. It moved us. It was a tragically beautiful teachable moment that reminded us what it feels like not to hate each other but to be human first. It was as simple as that. And for a few minutes, I felt lighter, without that hate that I’m used to carrying around. What a load off. I felt better. Embracing my enemies felt surprisingly good. Could it last?
Well, we now know in hindsight that Giffords’ minutes-long standing ovation would not actually teach our elected clowns anything. Within the hour it was back to beltway business as usual and the vitriol on the campaign trail and in the halls of Congress resumed. That great uplifting scene gave us a few exceptional minutes of humanity on the House floor, but then slipped quietly away only to be covered up with the next hourly news cycle like a fresh dusting of snow. As good as it felt, it would not be enough to stir our politicians to cut the B.S. and try to be civilized again for the betterment of us all. The way it used to be, when Tip O’Neil would have a drink after work with the Republican leader. Those days went away when we impeached common sense. But theatrical moments like Giffords’ make us remember what our country should be, and could be again, if our leaders would lead us away from cliffs rather than over them, as they do quite intentionally today.
Theatre gets our attention. It’s live and in your face. You cry. But it does no good if the audience doesn’t let the emotions wash over them and affect them. It can only change you if you let it. If you just wipe away the tears and get back to life without thinking too much about why you’re crying… then you miss that nugget that let’s you take that feeling with you as you leave the theatre and use it somehow in your life. The best art does that for us. My New Year’s Resolution for 2013, is to be brave enough and smart enough and vulnerable enough to somehow use these beautiful moments in my life. To be a better audience.
About the Author: JAY MCADAMS is a co-founder of LA’s 24th Street Theatre and has been its Executive Director since 1999. A graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, his acting work in television has included recurring work on NBC’s daytime drama, DAYS OF OUR LIVES. He is also a producer, having produced dozens of theatrical productions over the last 20 years. Jay is a master teacher, having created acclaimed Arts Education programs for tens of thousands of children. Jay is the winner of the University of Southern California School of Education’s Innovation and Leadership Award for his work in Arts Education. Jay’s leadership training includes the LA County Arts Commission’s Arts Leadership Initiative, the Annenberg Leadership Institute, and the prestigious Stanford University Executive Program for Non-Profit Leaders, where Jay won a Center for Social Innovation fellowship. Jay has also been selected by the US State Department to serve as a Cultural Envoy to El Salvador, where he has performed and taught on two tours. http://24thstreet.org