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Robbins speaks about ‘theatre as community’

Catherine Miller | Thursday, January 22, 2009

Academy-Award winning actor and social activist Tim Robbins told an audience at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Wednesday night that the goal of theater is to “create a lasting, shared experience that will be remembered.”

He related that definition to the inauguration of President Barack Obama, saying that just as the inauguration united humanity in hope and possibility, theater should have the same effect, he said.

Robbins gave a lecture called “Theater as Community” in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center to students, faculty and staff.

“Theater by nature is unique and more relevant when it involves community. It does not work if you pretend community isn’t there,” Robbins said.

He illustrated the definition of community by singing “Mary Don’t You Weep” with the audience, demonstrating that a shared journey unites people and creates a sense of community.

Robbins explained that theater must do more than simply offer entertainment; it must provoke thought and a lasting effect.

“People want an ice cream sundae of entertainment in their belly, but in the morning the feeling has disappeared,” he said. “What we really need is a good laugh, but community needs more. We need to feel something the day after.”

It is not enough to wiggle around on stage and be cute and charming, he joked.

Robbins said he has been asked why it is necessary to merge art and social issues.

“I don’t know how art can exist without involving the world around it,” he said.

Over the past two years, Robbins has directed the Actors’ Gang performance of George Orwell’s “1984” and has travelled to 40 states and four continents.

Robbins explained that the play has sparked similar discussions concerning civil liberties and the use of rule by fear at each location. He used that as an example of the provocation of thought by production.

“Art is essential in moments of transformation and change. Art is essential in moments of despair,” Robbins proclaimed.

Pablo Picasso’s artwork “Guernica” – another example Robbins cited – was created after Germany’s bombing of civilian territory in Guernica, Spain. When Colin Powell petitioned for the War in Iraq in the United Nations building, the painting was covered, he said.

“It showed art’s immense power,” Robbins said. Powell saw Guernica as such a threat that he could not stand in form of Picasso and lie, he said.

Robbins also spoke about the necessity for theater to be accessible.

“Theater must exist outside walls,” Robbins said. Theater and culture must be open to all, and the message of the production must resonate beyond a stage. He said that this can be accomplished by the actor, whose goal is to transform the soul and reach to the roots of theater.

Robbins concluded his talk by stating that theater and its goals continue to be relevant.

“If actors have done their job, the journey of theater continues. The important thing is that there is communication in the community to provide a common journey. This is why art is relevant. This is why it will last,” he said.