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Theatre and wine are cornerstones of Western culture—assumed, unquestioned, and too often taken for granted. Not only do they have a shared history, but they produce a similar effect. While the focus has mainly been placed on wine and fine art, and theatre and drugs as separate categories, wine and theatre might, in fact, share a far more profound relationship. One that is found in rituals from antiquity and contemporary wine tastings; one that encapsulates the moment your lips meet the glass, that performative little swirl of appreciation and, equally, that applause when a piece of theatre has shaken you completely.
When speaking about wine and theatre, the Greeks were inexhaustible. It is important to look back at the past to understand the ways in which theatre and wine were inextricably linked from the beginning. If early forms of theatricality developed in relation to rituals, wine was a staple in many of them. At ancient Greek ceremonies, drinking wine was referred to as "drinking Dionysus"—the God of theatre and wine. The sacral drink was celebrated for its cultural significance and reflected the superior status of those who were able to afford the indulgence. Wine offered social and cultural transformation, as well as a personal one concerning character and behaviour.
The Symposium, for instance, often presented as a philosophical discourse, was in fact a social event which strived for a good mixture of liquids and guests (diluted fine wine and the male elite—a highly problematic and exclusive tradition!). Along with the talk, music, games, sexual banter, and wine were fundamental. The Symposium was thus a meeting with a changeable agenda, at once spectacle, performance, and enjoyment, with an appeal to all the senses. As wine was consumed and brains addled, the party with its initial notion of distinction and sophistication became much less decorous. Its dramaturgy was one of a debauched descent into immorality where highbrow discourse regularly played second fiddle to complete intoxication.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about the Dyonisian principle which absorbed this event and gave rise to Ancient Greek theatre. For him, the Dionysian transposes individuals into a state of ecstasy and transforms them into members of a dancing, singing community—a community in which the boundaries separating individuals are dissolved. Natural instincts abound, any and all social barriers break down, and the sense of community spirit thrives. What wine and theatre have the power to awaken, still, is a state of Rausch—an intoxication, which brings about an "ecstasy" that removes one beyond normal existence.
Our selves are constructed by masks and Rausch takes one out of oneself, allowing us to see the truth behind the veil of appearances. It is a supreme feeling of genuine liberation. At least temporarily, Rausch, produced by wine or theatre, makes possible a more direct and vivid experience of self-overcoming in its fullest existential dimension. Perhaps ironically, throughout history, wine and theatre have been associated with elitism or attached the significance of status symbols. Yet their intoxicating and transformative power can obliterate the burden of time and present them as raw products which help us remember something more profound, at least for a moment. Theatre and wine can still provide an "illusion" which can help us forget the displeasure caused by the weight of existence.