Peter Meineck discusses mirror neurons.

The word “community” has cropped up from three distinct sources lately, and always in relation to theater. I’ll take that as a sign.

First, I stumbled on a video where Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatricals, discusses why attending live theater — or working to create a theatrical production — is important for kids. “It’s about training to be a member of a family and a member of a community, and you learn that through the arts,” he said. He noted that his sense of community grew from watching plays and musicals together in the dark with a group of strangers. Apparently, he grew up in a time when we trusted strangers in the dark.

Peter Meineck elaborated on his theme. Meineck, artistic director of Aquila Theatre which brings us a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this spring, talked to me about mirror neurons. I nodded, pretending to understand, and vowed silently to look that phrase up on Wikipedia soon as I could.

Apparently, we humans use mirror neurons to acquire behaviors, according to the theories. As we observe others, certain of our neurons mirror the conduct of those others, allowing us to adopt the behavior modeled for us without actually having to perform the act to gain the skill. So, when we sit together in a darkened theater, watching activities live on stage, we communally acquire positive behaviors through our neurons. It's not yet clear what behaviors we gain from watching Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Lastly, Nikki Bohne, who is rehearsing to play the lead in the new touring production of Legally Blonde — The Musical, talked about the community that forms with a group of actors working together on a play. She was in her seventh day of rehearsal and already felt connected with her fellow actors. The bonds in a good cast form very quickly with everyone working toward a common goal.

Successful productions grow from the notion that everyone in the room wants the same thing. If cast members don’t check egos at the door, the success of the production crumbles at the edges. If egos really collide, the production can collapse completely. Think J-Lo on steroids, if that’s not an oxymoron.

Our arts education funds dwindle daily in the face of budget shortages, and our sense of community dwindles daily in headlines and sound bites. With theatre and related disciplines being replaced by the postured drama we see in news clips and “reality” shows, I have to wonder what behaviors our children are gaining through their mirror neurons, and whether those are the behaviors we really want them to learn. Maybe they'd get a greater sense of community sitting in the dark with a group of strangers.

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Tags: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Disney, Popejoy, Popejoy Hall, arts education, community, mirror neurons

Comment by Kathy Wimmer on September 22, 2010 at 4:16pm
I like!!!!

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