Theatre is essentially the reflection of real life, an imitation of the real world. Since ages, theatre has played an important role in every society. It the mirrors the society of the given times, the people and their ways of life! One can look back to the theatrical presentations of a particular age and learn a lot about the social and cultural conditions which prevailed during those times. Just like a man who has never seen himself in a mirror doesn’t know how he looks, a culture without theatre wouldn’t know what it’s made of.
When we look back to the theatrical productions of Christopher Marlowe or William Shakespeare, the dominance of the royal family becomes eminent. They also present the particular essence of the romanticism which was much in vogue during those times (around the 16th Century). If we move forward a few centuries and consider the theatres or plays by modern playwrights like Samuel Beckett (Think of ‘Waiting for Godot’, 1953) we find that they seek to figure out the very meaning of existence, or rather comments on its very nature. So, there certainly has been a huge change in the thought process of the generations and this becomes crystal clear in the difference posed between the arts of these two eras.
As to the importance of the theatre in society, at one point it was majorly economical but in the present times, it has more cultural importance. Theatre is not merely a mode of entertainment but it is a vehicle of change, education and self expression in the society. Just as the body needs food to remain healthy, the mind needs artistic persuasions to retain its health. And theatre is a major form of art, a great way to influence the way people think, or see the world.
As a mode of education and social change, theatre presents before us an image of our very selves, and lets us see who we are. It makes it easier to find the faults, to understand the corruptions which evade the culture. Theatres have long been an indispensible mean for every culture to raise or promote a social cause – from condemning capitalism to promoting women rights and very recently, supporting gender-equality/ homosexuality – theatre has always played its own role in shaping the mind of the people.
Theatre also provides as a mode of self expression. It makes possible to express those thoughts, desires or cravings which are not widely accepted in the society and helps to express why it should be. From the history of the society, to human relationships to the complex working of the human mind: theatre allows for exploration and brings to the surface the truth, the undiluted raw truth of existence.
At the same time, Theatre allows for Globalization and helps the human mind to expand and learn about a world beyond his own, to know about people and cultures which exists beyond his own society. It liberalizes the human mind, allows it to grow, and provokes thought and imagination.
It also makes us realize that reality is much bigger than ourselves, and the theatre is its replica – a meta-theatre, and we humans are but mere actors, playing out our roles since “All the world’s a stage”. Therefore, a culture is incomplete without its theatre.