Theatre as Tolerance
Welcome to blog series, “Theatre as…”. In this series, I will demonstrate the multiple ways theatre can be used as a tool for education, restorative practice, and simply, life. Throughout my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to experience theatre for entertainment and enjoyment, but also beyond the stage, as a means for change; those experiences are the ones I will be reflecting upon in my series.
In the Fall of my 3rd year in college I was cast in a play, Nathan the Wise. At first I was bit underwhelmed by the choice. As it is a play that takes place in twelfth century Jerusalem during the crusades, I thought it would put the audience and the cast straight to sleep. However, I had faith in my director, as she had been the same one to cast me in other shows and always done a phenomenal job— and this play was no exception.
Nathan the Wise is a play written by Gotthold Lessing about religious tolerance, very progressive for its publication in 1779. The play’s protagonist’s include Nathan a Jewish man, and his adopted daughter, Recha. Other leading roles include the Muslim Sultan, Saladin and Christain advisor Daja. The play battles with the concept of “one true religion” and centralizes around Nathan’s monologue which explains the ring parable, that all religions are entirely equal before God. In short, the play demonstrated how each religion, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, are fundamentally equal.
It is essential to keep in mind that I attend a Catholic college, although progressive in some respects still, a Catholic campus. I first thought the response from the administration, monks, and nuns would be extremely negative. Surprisingly, I heard almost no bad press. In fact, most of the reviews were very positive. Theology classes became required to attend our show, Afterwards, we had great Q and A sessions all about how to promote religious tolerance and other themes of the show. Overall, what I thought would be a boring, complex, and misguided play fostered conversation on our campus that was very important.
From the rehearsals, to the post-performance talks, and Q and A sessions with the community members, I saw theatre as a tool for tolerance. We were able to present to an audience an idea that probably was contrary to what they thought, and explore the possibility of creating peace and tolerance. Theatre is powerful in that way; it is a way to evoke conversation or thought without shoving beliefs in someone’s face. I know that each audience member walked out of the show with something new to think about, and that is the power of theatre.