I spent the past week attempting to put together one submission package for a play of mine. As has become the custom these days, the theater in question – which, for the sake of decorum, I won’t name here – requested a synopsis, playwright bio, and ten page sample of the script IN ADDITION to the full script. To this by-now typical suite of materials, this theater added the criteria of not one, but THREE separate essay questions to fill out. Not all these questions related to the play I was submitting – one asked me to reply to a quote by a famous playwright. Since it’s not really possible to work on all of this AND a blog post, and since I think the answer I came up with wasn’t half bad as far as theatrical manifestos go, I figured I’d post my answer here today for your interest and edification.
It’s easy to rhapsodize human connection when discussing theatre. At its most fundamental, we’re watching performers interact with each other, communicating far more completely than it’s usually possible to do in our mundane lives. That interaction is taking place in front of an audience of fellow human beings, seeing images of humanity they might never experience otherwise, a diverse cross-section of individuals experiencing the story onstage as one. Theatre’s a method of creating empathy, we’re told – and indeed, we’re told it so often it’s easy for the words to simply become a glib slogan.
To make those human connections meaningful, it’s important for theatre to examine the ways in which they don’t take place. To take a long, hard look at those moments when we don’t manage to communicate with each other – when we talk at cross-purposes with each other, when we’re blinded by our prejudices, when we willfully avoid looking at things we prefer not to confront. And to keep our art form honest, we need to confront the ways in which we can become complicit in this degradation of communication – to look at how the stories we tell can fuel self-delusions, or be transformed to propaganda.
I try to do this with my plays. An Arctic Confederate Christmas is all about the private lies and national myths that have been created so a (future?) society doesn’t have to confront the awful crimes it’s founded on. It’s difficult work, to be sure – but nobody ever said theatre was easy.
I mean, that’s not a bad 250 words, right? I’d hire me!