When we glamourise urban transportation cycling, a favourite fantasy activity of this genre is cycling to the theater. A civilised evening out and you can do it on a bike! Oh my. Wistfully we picture elegant sophisticates pedaling stately steeds unhurriedly, their tranquil faces luminous in the neon glow of storefront signs.
Meanwhile, there I was… bracing against the headwind, sweat streaming down my face, as I cycled 7 miles past endless fields stuffed with grazing sheep, the smell of freshly spread manure filling the evening air. Ah, rural cycling at its finest. A civilised evening out and you can do it on a bike!
At last, and only slightly worse for wear, I arrived in the tiny town of Limavady to see the much-recommended Flesh and Blood Women. The community arts center where the play was staged has this multi-purpose room that makes for an intimate auditorium, with the audience clustered close to the stage. When I walked in, the place was packed. The only available seat that offered a decent view was in the front row. I took it. And, as the lights dimmed and the performance began, I found myself face to face with the actress delivering the first monologue.
I have seen my share of plays, but it's been a while since I'd seen one in a venue this small, sitting this closely to the stage. I had almost forgotten that, when a play is good, the physical presence of the actors is so viscerally engaging as to be overwhelming. It is as if a real event unfolds in our presence. We don't just watch it happen; we feel it happen.
The actress in front of me was so very there I could see her eyes tear up, her forehead glisten with sweat and her calf muscles twitch as she paced in stiletto heels. I could feel the force of her breath when she spoke. Her emotions vibrated and these vibrations in turn resonated through my own body. Weakened and relaxed by the physical effort of having cycled into town, I found myself especially receptive to this stage presence physicality. There was a rawness to watching the play that matched my own state of being.
Feeling all this, I could not help but recall the previous week, when a friend and I had driven to see a movie. These experiences were parallel, but so interestingly different. Seeing a movie on a screen versus seeing a play, and driving versus cycling. In one there is a degree of separation introduced that dampens the visceral and makes for a more detached, abstract experience. In many ways, this is a more comfortable way to be - to travel, to observe, to seek entertainment. There is privacy, protection. There is a reduction in effort. But in spite of this - or perhaps because of it - it cannot pack a punch as strong as direct experience.
Riveted by the persons on stage in front of me, I hear the final click of their heels as they leave the stage and imagine pedaling home in the cool country night. What a strange and visceral entertainment.