Molly Knox reflects on her own experience of the importance of live theatre to our mental health. 

Theatre has been integral in my life since I was very young, so to say this year has been strange without it would be an understatement. I’ve grown up with theatre; it’s always been there or thereabouts – whether I’m in the audience, in a rehearsal room, or up on a stage. It’s always been what I’ve needed it to be at the time I’ve needed it. Theatre is a comfort. Theatre is an outlet. Theatre is a safe space to experiment. Theatre is a community of like-minded people. Theatre is the wellness of the collective – bringing complete strangers together in grief and laughter. Theatre is allowing us to explore what makes us human at our core and how we process our emotions. Theatre is creating something magical from the sum of our parts. Theatre is glorious.

So, I’m sure I speak for plenty of people when I say I miss it and I’m worried. I’m worried about the future of theatre and theatre-makers, and I’m worried about the storytellers of the future who might not have the opportunity to be inspired in person. Don’t get me wrong, I think creatives of all kinds have shone throughout this time in proving how resilient and, well, creative, they can be with the little resources they have at their fingertips. We’ve had months worth of access to watch and learn from world-class performers, technicians, writers, directors, designers, and facilitators from the comfort of our homes. I know I for one have definitely taken advantage of zoom workshops to home in on my skills and try new things. It was these workshops that motivated me to stay optimistic about having a future in the arts, wherever I fit into what the Arts will look like in a post-COVID world – presuming there will be a post-COVID world… In the midst of all of this, I’ve realised pretty quickly how much having face-to-face contact with other creatives was essential to my welfare.

Being someone who has grown up around theatre, most of my network of friends are people who are also finding it hard to adjust to a year that’s been severely lacking live theatre. I’ve particularly missed the social aspect of the drama classes I attended weekly and the ability to relax and be creative regularly with likeminded people. After speaking to some of my friends, they’ve told me similar things. The running theme seemed to be missing the elements of emotional vulnerability and escapism that theatre brought their wellbeing. For now, it appears that grappling with present realities is something we all need a break from, and it’s a shame that live theatre isn’t able to provide the cathartic service that we all know and love about it.

Like many people, I’ve had to push myself lots this year, attempting to find inventive ways of keeping the flame burning and trying not to miss live theatre too much. With 70% of theatre jobs at risk and an entirely online theatre space creating barriers for those with less access to the internet and technology, cutting off older generations in particular from the mental and physical health benefits of that community, it’s a tough time to stay optimistic and look for the silver lining in all aspects of life, let alone theatre. We need to seek radical solutions to undo the harm that the calamitous events of this year have created and continue the hard work of the theatre industry to improve the welfare of people from all walks of life.

Among the lessons learnt from the questionable treatment of theatre this year, it’s important to emphasise the wonders it does for so many people and how it’s improved my life in so many ways. We must never forget its worth.