Be Healthy – Go to Theatre!

Drama masks

A recent study has found that people who participate in cultural activities have better health than the general population. The report was funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council, and studied six activities:

  • Visiting art galleries
  • Going to theatre
  • Attending classical music performances
  • Attending pop music performances
  • Going to cultural festivals
  • Reading books

According to the report, attending theatre performances had a connection with SEVEN of the eight indicators of health that were studied. In fact, the only health indicator theatre attendance wasn’t linked to was stress in one’s daily life.

Here’s an excerpt of findings for theatre goers from the report:

  • 58% of theatre goers (vs. 46% non-theatre goers) reported they have “very good” or “excellent” health
  • 67% (vs. 57% non-theatre goers) reported they have “very good” or “excellent” mental health
  • 50% (vs. 28% non-theatre goers) volunteer
  • 30% (vs. 38% non-theatre goers) feel trapped in a daily routine
  • 46% (vs. 41% non-theatre goers) know many or most of their neighbours
  • 70% (vs. 61% non-theatre goers) have done a favor for a neighbour in the past month
  • 64% (vs. 56% non-theatre goers) report a strong satisfaction with life

Some of these differences between theatre goers and non-theatre goers really surprised me. For example, 50% of theatre goers volunteer – that’s amazing! While the report doesn’t dig into the organizations theatre goers volunteer at, I would bet that at least a few theatre-goers volunteer at theatre organizations. After all, most theatre companies are nonprofits, and with the arts funding situation in Canada, these organizations rely heavily on volunteers. As for myself, it took a few years, but eventually my volunteerism has stretched to the Freewill Shakespeare Festival and Walterdale Playhouse. After watching so many great productions in Edmonton, it made me want to contribute in some way to what I was seeing on stage. So far, I’ve mostly been in the box office, but through volunteerism (and my series for Sound + Noise Behind Summer and Smoke), I’ve realized that Edmonton has an interwoven theatre community – whether you’re at Walterdale Playhouse, the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, the Fringe, the University of Alberta, the Roxy, or The Citadel, you’ll start to see the same names and faces, no matter where you go. For someone with little artistic ability like me, volunteering is a great way to get to know the people I see in the playbills, as well as contribute to the art form that I love the most.

Another statistic from the report I definitely related to was about theatre goers being more likely to rate their mental health as “very good” or “excellent”. In a lot of ways, I became obsessed with theatre because of this one reason – mental health. Before I started seeing the copious amounts of theatre I’m now able to, thanks to Sound + Noise, I didn’t really know how to deal with a lot of my emotions. When I was interviewing Mary-Ellen Perley for one of my Summer and Smoke articles, she described Greek theatre to me as being a ritualistic experience where the Greeks could experience very intense emotions in a “safe” environment. This is exactly what theatre meant to me – both when I first became interested in it, and ever since. When I see a very intense, emotional play, such as Where the Blood Mixes or When Dog Sees God I walk out of the theatre feeling purified. My mind is at ease, I feel more open and at peace with the world and everyone it, likely because I was able to have a very emotional experience while surrounded by people who I may – or may not – know. It’s a hard feeling to explain, but I think if you’ve had it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The study itself admits there are some flaws with the research (as with all research), but nonetheless, I think it’s important this research continue to be conducted and shared, to help quantify the impact the arts have on ourselves and our communities. You can read the executive summary or the full report on the Canada Council for the Arts website. The report is one in a series of 37 by Hill Strategies called Statistical Insights on the Arts.

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