​The Magic of Theater

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on January 25, 2023 # Lifestyle

TheaterWe all need to escape. From time to time, we need to leave our real-world challenges behind and just get away. But for those of us with spinal cord injuries, travel can be difficult, to say the least. So, what do we do?

One of the most rewarding ways I have found to escape is to go to a live theater production. I have always been a theater fan. When I was 7 or 8 years old, my parents took me to see a professional production of “The Sound of Music,” and I was hooked. My friends kid me about how much time I spend in theaters, but it can entertain me, make me think, bring forth many emotions and allow me to travel into worlds I will never get to experience firsthand. Sitting in a darkened theater in my wheelchair or in a theater seat transports me in ways nothing else can. In just the last few weeks, I have journeyed into fairy tales with master composer and playwright Stephen Sondheim, experienced four generations of a family in Europe with Oscar and Tony award-winning writer Tom Stoppard, enjoyed the glitz and glamor of a night at the Moulin Rouge, and laughed at the odd political landscape of America in 2022.

The best plays and musicals are created through magical collaborations. The script, the lighting, the costumes, the sound, the actors, the sets, and many other elements come together to capture our minds and hearts. We come out of the theater having felt things we could never have felt if we had not been in that room at that moment.

And theater brings another essential element to our lives. In the theater, we are actively participating in a common experience with other human beings. The actors on stage are sharing their talents and their stories with us, we are sharing them with other audience members, and the audience is responding by giving our reactions back to the actors. This give-and-take cannot happen in a movie theater or in front of our TVs. No matter how well-written or beautifully acted a film may be, it will always lack a key element of that communal experience. We have all felt the shared joy of an audience laughing together, or the gasp of 200 people at a powerful moment of drama. And when the lights come up again at the end of the show, those special shared moments are gone. To be sure, the actors will take the stage again the next night, but that specific moment, that performance, in front of that audience of which we were a part, will never happen again. That is part of the magic.

Theater began as a religious ritual. In ancient Greece, Athenians told sacred myths and paid tribute to the gods with theatrical performances. Before most people could read, they learned the lessons and stories of religion from actors more often than from priests. Even today, children often encounter their first Bible lessons through plays. And to me a theater is still a sacred shared space. It is a place of mystery, magic and joy. It is where we go to have our prayers answered – prayers for human connection and prayers that our souls will be touched by great art. It grabs us by the heart and gives our brains an electric charge.

So, if you can get to a theater, treat yourself to a few hours of escape. Whether you see a laugh-out-loud comedy, a drama that makes your heart break, a musical that lifts your spirits, a portrayal of an intriguing historical figure or any other form of theater, let yourself become immersed in the moment. And as soon as you get home from the theater… go online and buy your next set of tickets!

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.