a tonic for periods of illness

a tonic for periods of illness

a tonic for periods of illness

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: David Levenson / Getty Images

Playwright Alan Ayckbourn is a prominent figure in British theater, not least as an octogenarian whose works outnumber his years. Just as his 86th play ends its run in a tiny theater near Whitby, his 87th is about to open 20 miles along the Yorkshire coast at his home away from home, Scarborough. Meanwhile, in Sussex, Chichester is gearing up for a revival of her 1985 comedy Woman in Mind.

What better tonic could there be in this deeply un-fun era than an evening with a consummate craftsman who spent six decades extracting laughter from a personal calamity. As a recent Arts Council report points out, the arts are indeed a tonic, with an important role to play in the nation’s mental health.

As one of the UK’s most commercially successful theater producers, Ayckbourn might seem like an odd figure to focus on. He is not on the cutting edge; he will never convert an insane youth from downtown to the joys of the theater. But he is also a local hero, who has earned the loyalty of his audience by staying loyal to them.

In the growing storm of falling revenue and rising overheads, it puts bums on seats both in established arenas, such as the Stephen Joseph Theater, and in small makeshift venues in areas that, in current but inadequate slang, could very well qualify as culturally private. . Take the farming community served by the 102-seat Esk Valley theater, which has operated as a town hall for the past 17 years and is currently staging Ayckbourn’s All Lies, directed by the master himself.

Esk Valley serves a sparse, predominantly elderly population, which was one of the demographics identified in the Arts Council report. A sense of social well-being was one of the key benefits identified by a study that reported that 82% of adults felt that artistic involvement, by watching or participating, helped them feel connected.

In keeping with a period of social and economic crisis, the report takes a utilitarian line, focusing on the ability of the arts to reduce crime and substance abuse in economically disadvantaged areas. This is valid and political, but the studies cited tell a richer story of their role in enabling people to “flourish” and find meaning in life. Visits to the theater and museums, in particular, make older people feel less alone.

Crucially, the report also points out that the arts are a “perishable commodity”. There is no need for skydiving in a single jaw-dropping show or dance masterclass: to realize their therapeutic potential, they must be kept in motion, so that the sense of well-being they generate is regularly replenished. Public funding is not set up to provide such continuity, but the cultural economy often relies on the energy and commitment of individuals, such as the husband and wife team – an actor / director and a choreographer – who run the Esk theater. Valley.

They too will need support if they are to weather the economic storm. They may be small but, as their longstanding relationship with Ayckbourn demonstrates, they are a valuable part of a cultural continuum, delivering bursts of healing laughter that inoculate people against loneliness and despair.

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