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April 11, 2011 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

The Suspension of Disbelief

“You know that place between sleep and awake?” whispered Tinkerbell, “ The place where you can still remember dreaming?”

That place where it is just deliciously possible to imagine that, if you peer through the coats in your damp Aro Valley wardrobe, there might be another world out there. A tantalising and wonderful world where, if only temporarily, you can suspend all disbelief and banish the constraints of reality.

We all know that place. Perhaps it is one that we haven’t visited in years—a relic of a distant childhood before overdrafts and law degrees turned us all into cold-hearted skeptics. But that magic place is all around us, if only we choose to look. No, not on Google maps, but in good books, art, music, film and theatre. The arts, like dreams, are intermediaries between real and imagined worlds.

Theatre in this sense is not constrained to the stage, nor are we ever passive audiences vis-à-vis a play. I believe good plays and good novels are like colouring books that everyone shades differently. Each individual picture is a reflection of the viewer’s age, experiences, mood, and desires. We can suspend disbelief, but never fully escape from our own subjectivity. In my mind, theatre is not mere entertainment, but a dynamic process in which our responses reflect and shape our own perceptions. The most successful theatre may transport us to another world, but does so most effectively by evoking explicitly personal memories and emotions. Perhaps, if you are to believe the most famous bard of all, “All the world’s a stage”.

Thus, although an ability to suspend disbelief may be the most essential element of storytelling, maybe we are all actors in theatre. Therefore, next time, before you dismiss theatre as mere fantasy, remember to allow yourself to imagine. If possible, avoid being too grown up too quickly. After all, to paraphrase Peter Pan, “Every time you say ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there’s a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”


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