Theater in a Garden…or, Our Brains on Art – West Side Rag

The Greenhouse Ensemble’s 2021 production.

By Hazen Cuyler

While engaging in conversation, our brainwaves synchronize, research shows. While watching theater with others, our hearts beat together. While sharing a work of film, our brainwaves synchronize and our eyelids blink together.

These phenomena, in which the individual body and psyche merge into a communal perspective, lead us toward an important reality concerning art’s benefit on society: it is not only the artwork on view that impacts the individual and our culture, but the very experience of being in a unique space with those unique people.

The communal event of live theater synchronizes the audience and actors’ brainwaves and bodies, and for a brief period of time we are not at odds; Instead, we are as close as possible to becoming one. This research is currently being studied to see how it might help navigate our political divide, to broker common ground more efficiency.

I have been thinking about these findings lately, while producing The Greenhouse Ensemble‘s 10-Minute Play Soiree at The West Side Community Gardenbeginning July 30th.

The Greenhouse Ensemble is a theater, film, art, and music company on the Upper West Side, and I serve as the artistic director. We produce plays, films, digital media, art installations, and other art-related events. We also provide low-cost workshops and classes.

This is our sixth 10-Minute Play Soiree and our second production at The West Side Community Garden. These Soirees are our most popular event, bringing together seven short plays on various themes, guided by six directors, with seven different casts. It is a large community of artists, all working closely together for the sake of creating meaningful art, fueled by a desire to reinforce a strong communal bond for our artists and our audience.

Peter Brook, the revered English theater and film director who died at the age of 97 this year, said that theater is a microcosm of our society, where people from different backgrounds must collaborate to accomplish a significant goal (creating art).

Alexey Burago (Artistic Director of the Russian Arts Theater and Studio on the Upper West Side) told me that theater is the greatest artform because of this necessary element of collaboration. From Aristotle on, theater practitioners, critics, and theorists have echoed similar sentiments, praising the artform’s value.

Perhaps artists and audiences have always known what science is now discovering. Perhaps a reason for live theater’s survival for 2,400 years is a lesser-known reality; that the act of collecting people into a confined space for the purpose of observing meaningful work, and not just the work by itself in insolation, inspires audiences; that a grouping of people together is not only more powerful than sitting on your couch alone looking at a screen, but that the act of coming together synchronizes our bodies and minds and can help steer humanity, just as the content of art does.

Artists need space to create. Given space, they will create, because they do not have a choice; it is encoded in their DNA to make something appear that did not exist before. If artists create artwork within a given space, people from outside the community will travel to witness the creation. When people observe the artwork, they might be inspired, they might be disturbed and hate it, but they are likely to momentarily think in unison, simply because they saw it together.

After they leave, that experience will be with them forever, and will slightly alter the way they observe, experience, and interact with life. Ideally, they will be kinder to themselves and others. But in the worst-case scenario, they may go to the local bar around the corner and pay for a drink, supporting the community’s economy.

Judy Robinson, chairperson of the board, and everyone at The West Side Community Garden have whole-heartedly supported Greenhouse in the past. This tucked-away neighborhood shelter permits art to grow just as it does plants. A recent study Using data collected from 19,806 people, revealed that 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with better health and well-being. If only there were an opportunity to place audiences within a stunning garden setting for approximately 120 minutues, where they would benefit not only from cultural inspiration but also from better health as well…

At our 10-Minute Play Soiree this July, over the course of approximately 120 minutes, we will give you seven opportunities to be inspired. Some audiences will appreciate one play over another. Some plays are funny, and some are not. You’ll laugh, I promise. You may also cry. But you’ll experience it together, in a garden full of possibility and life; Experiencing new worlds you’ve never encountered and dreaming of our yet-unimagined future together. And after the show, we’ll walk down the road to George Keeley’s where we’ll enjoy a beer together, whether we liked the art or not.

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