For as long as I can remember, theater has been my escape. In elementary school, I could hardly wait to see the musical Wicked for the first time. My family purchased the Broadway cast recording leading up to the show, and I listened to it religiously — on the way to school, on family road trips, and any other chance I got. I’m sure this mild obsession irritated my family to no end, but I couldn’t contain my excitement about seeing the musical.
When the night of the show finally came, I was entranced from the moment the lights went out. As I took in every note I’d heard on the soundtrack for weeks and admired each dazzling set design, my eyes were glued to the stage. My all-important worries about elementary school playground drama went out the window for two blissful hours. For weeks after that night, I longed to be back in my cushioned seat observing the incredible live performance.
Since then, going to the theater has been a way for me to forget about reality for a while. During my junior year of high school, I was spending extended periods of time preparing for an anxiety-producing national exam. In the middle of a Saturday afternoon study session, my dad told me he was able to get cheap tickets to see the musical Hamilton in San Francisco that night. Abandoning my flashcards for the evening, I drove into the city and went to the theater with my dad. Once the house lights dimmed and the stage lit up, I forgot about the impending exam and just enjoyed the show. At a time when every minute of my day had been devoted to the upcoming test, it was amazing to have all worries leave my mind.
This past weekend, I was reminded of the powerful effects of theater. After a week of papers and midterms, I made my way back to campus on a Friday night to see a play by one of UC Berkeley’s performing arts organizations. As always, my attention was riveted on the stage for the entire runtime. I was completely absorbed by the plot’s many twists and turns, laughing, gasping, and applauding throughout the show. Especially in the middle of midterm season, forgetting about my schoolwork and focusing on a great play was exactly what I needed.
I sometimes wonder what it is about theater that is so special to me. Maybe part of it is the novelty. Tickets can be expensive, so I don’t go to the theater very often. When I do, it’s exciting to snag discounted prices and see a wonderful show for a fraction of the cost. I think another entrancing aspect of theater is the performances. With all the dramatic monologues and sensational musical numbers, I find myself completely captivated by the show. The dark house lights also help with the theatrical hypnosis, directing the focus away from my surroundings and onto the stage. Whether it’s the infrequent trips, awe-inspiring performances, or darkened room, there’s something about the theater that has cleared my head since childhood.
Especially as people get older and take on arguably more significant responsibilities, it is crucial to discover ways to escape. For some, that might be cracking open a good book or taking a long drive. For me, I knew I’d found my favorite form of escape the second I heard the Wicked cast recording. It might take some trial and error, but I hope you find your escape too.