Isaac Littlejohn Eddy, May 2018
A few weeks ago I was a part of something extraordinary. We hosted our second BrewHaha at River Arts that featured stand up comedy, improv, and a pie auction led by our very funny emcee of Modern Times Theatre and Vermont Vaudeville, Justin Lander. The show was completely sold out and there was a wonderfully diverse range of comedy from NVU Johnson students presenting comedic monologues from classic plays to our very own USPS deliverer, Holly Reynolds, doing a set as her hilarious alter ego, Mavis O’Grady. But what made this event so special to me was the crowd. We all chose to come together on a Thursday night to experience something together that could not be reproduced, repackaged, redistributed, and sold.
As a professor of dramatic arts I think about the relevance of theatre in our contemporary lives a lot. One would think that with the ability to stream any entertainment we want at any time from our phones in our pocket that theatre, more than ever, should be dying. The truth is, though, that it’s because of these ever-present and ubiquitous screens that theatre is more vital than ever before.
Live theatre forces us to experience stories from multiple perspectives and in a timeframe that we cannot pause, screenshot, or tweet. What makes theatre (and specifically, the BrewHaha event at River Arts) wholly unique in this is that we witness this unveiling of the story as a group of bodies in a single room; some performing and some viewing but all of us witnessing this live event together. Recent social science experiments have proven that theatre has the ability to sync up the heartbeats of an entire audience. I’ve experienced this first hand: performing as a Blue Man for many years in New York City, Las Vegas and London, and now here in Johnson, Vermont directing experimental and classical shows on the Dibden stage at Northern Vermont University. In the last few years I have noticed that these moments of “liveness” that theatre uniquely provides has become an outlier. It‘s one of the few communal spaces where phones are off, faces are up, and we are pushed to truly see each other.
Teaching and directing young adult Vermonters who often are as glued to their phones as my generation is, I see that this ancient social art form of theatre is not simply valid and relevant as a form of artistic expression, in today’s society it’s absolutely necessary. What I loved about our BrewHaha event is that even though it was just for laughs, we were all engaged in a defiant act of community. We chose to celebrate “liveness” and listening over individualized consuming. This is the type of community I want to be a part of (and to laugh with!).
– Isaac Littlejohn Eddy is an actor, director, improv artist, cartoonist, River Arts Board Member, and Johnson State College Assistant Professor of Performing Arts.