Theatre-maker Nyree Yergainharsian started off making a show about falling in love, but the ‘new normal’ revealed that our need to connect actually trumps romance
When was the last time you were in a theatre? Do you remember what it feels like to be huddled up with hundreds of strangers as the lights go down? As an actor and theatre-maker, I relish that live experience: the doors closing and time pausing; the room gradually warming up with the heat from the lights; the anticipation as you wait in the wings for the first music cue to kick in — and we’re off!
When I started developing my new show Lobsters, I never imagined it wouldn’t be in a theatre with a live audience in front of it. I never thought I would be wearing a mask in a rehearsal room or that we’d be taking ‘ventilation breaks’.
Lobsters was born pre-pandemic, and out of curiosity around love and romantic connections; how we need and make those connections and, most importantly, why we do so. Intrigued by my own innate responses to the highs and lows of romance, I wondered if we had ever stopped to really understand what it is that drives us to engage, often over and over again, in a relentless search for a partner. Have we, as a society, convinced ourselves that forming ‘units’ is the main goal, or is this pursuit of connection the essence of what it means to be human?
To try to find the answer, I interviewed a range of people of varying ages, backgrounds and sexual orientations. I asked about their experiences of love and thoughts on human connection. I wasn’t looking for anything overtly specific, it was more of an exploration of falling in love and how social, environmental and technological conditions have contributed to, or gotten in the way of, that.
Everything was going great; the interviews were underway, I was building the team for the show, I knew what it would look and feel like — and then, bang, lockdown. The theatres have been closed for more than a year now. For the arts industry, it’s been one big, long, heart-wrenching ventilation break. I closely followed the progress of my peers who were filming their theatre shows and offering them to audiences online. At first, I was reluctant — if we are not all in the room together, is it even still theatre? Would a performance mean anything without an audience there? The audience is, after all, the backbone of live theatre.
However, as more and more time passed, I knew that I had to adapt in order to keep going. When I began, I was making a show about falling in love. As time went on, however, love began to take second place to connection. We were locked down and isolated, we weren’t meeting our friends and family, we didn’t bump into people on the street, we stayed in our homes. We started to miss people, miss our communities, miss our daily interactions. It became very clear that we need people in our lives in a way we may not have considered before.
To my mind, the two art forms — film and theatre — were being placed side by side and not really merged. I knew that the camera had to be part of the show. It had to do more than just capture it, it needed to be another character, part of the fabric of the show. This would not only create a hybrid theatre-film, it would also enhance the connection with the audience.
In a letter to Albert Einstein’s daughter Lieserl, attributed to Einstein himself, are these lines: “Love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits.” But then again, Einstein didn’t live through 2020. Maybe the most powerful force is actually our need as human beings to connect, to forge connections and just be together, whatever way we can.
Harvard University has spent decades on a study called ‘What makes us happy?’ The results, so far, can be boiled down to one simple sentence from the study’s director, Dr Robert Waldinger. “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
For me, theatre really does need an audience. But, in the meantime, we will try to stay connected. We will try to forge meaningful connections with audiences because we’ll all be happier and healthier for it. Period.
‘Lobsters’ will be available to watch online on 27-29 May at 8pm via mermaidartscentre.ie and projectartscentre.ie