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The Current Tut Tut of Theatre
What I write is not the entire truth, but an opinion that I would have answered in you where it best resonates and if it sounds like chalk screeching on a blackboard, then let it be so. I write this out of responsibility to my profession and accept the consequences therein.
I write this not to place myself in a position of authority on the subject although the belief in the value of my contribution is real otherwise I would keep my silence. The following articulated thoughts are generated over twenty-seven years of active participation in the theatre and therefore let my experiential knowledge of the phenomenon known as "theatre" be that which I stand behind and let it be that direct involvement and not ego's twaddle which that fuels the following prose.
The word "theatre" connotes not a thing but an idea. It is an idea of an imagined reality that is the prism into a better understanding of the tropes that are the domineering forces either recognized or not yet recognized or wanting to be recognized within our own experience of life; and yet in the realm of theatre these themes are connected in a way which explores the potential of their existence and the possible consequences of decisions that echo are own life's story.
Film is an amazing mimicry of reality. Let theatre not try to be a mimicry. Theatre is inherently a force as spectacular as an avalanche; singular and unique. Yet it is presently underestimated and undervalued as if it were a house of prostitution and not the Royal Court of the Soul.
The power of theatre is in the possibility of it all going wrong. Like life itself. It rarely does. Also, like life itself. No other art form can contain the threat of oblivion as theatre will do. It is a mirror to the actual circumstances of the human condition.
Theatre: It's manifestation is called "a play". Play. Truly one could not have stumbled upon a better word to describe where one finds oneself when seated in the heart of the matter.
A play's value is in its relation to those who would come to it.
Regardless of the play, it ends and so does our own life. If there are nine performances, the play incarnates nine times. Let's say that each performance corresponds to one day of my life. If I have thirty thousand days on the planet, I incarnate thirty thousand times. Each day ends with a sleep, as each performance ends when the curtain descends and when the play's season is finished it can never be replicated in precisely the same fashion and it is a waste of energy to try. This is the same as the end of one human life. Never again can it be repeated, although another might endeavor to replicate the actions of a person no longer living, it will always be a different person acting. Always life is unique to each of us. And always a play's reincarnation in the theatres of London, France, Japan will manifest singularly, as if it were happening for the first time because, if truth be told, it is.
I will speak of theatre because I would increase all that I cherish and love which speaks to the mortal existence. Theatre is above social judgment, but rather conforms to the ethical compensation of the soul.
The frame of each day of my life is fundamentally the same and it is the same as a play. Yet if we both are living then in the every day, in every moment there is difference and even observable change. Why is this if the script never changes from performance to performance or if I am always me when I wake up each morning? To the point: Just as in each day of my life new people enter and exist and influence or "act" upon me and whose role in my life I shape, in each performance there are also new players who influence and create the very meaning, the soul, of the witnessed theatrical event.
One may become curious or skeptical: Who are these new players? And how and what is their impact? Does not a single play have the same cast of actors, the same director, the same designers? In this fashion, yes, of course, those players are the same. They are the same as the integral structure that is myself day after day. However, something does change and it is the best part of the show, the contingency which determines the best part of myself. It is entirely not recognized and its merit highly underappreciated; and yet it the whole reason the show exists in the first place.
The reason "the show must go on" is because of those who would come to see it. Simple yes? But yet, it is not a thought normally valued for if it were then what is now called "theatre" would cherish the attention of its audience and not take its presence for granted. Make no mistake: The audience does not need your play. But your play needs an audience if it wants to become a living, breathing experience. Otherwise it is thrown unascried and dumb - the eternal blackout. And then, why would you play? As to exercise, the I of self-adulation? Would you attain Narcissus' state of captivation by his own image? Why such farce? There is no reason to act in a void. No one can see your light and the transmission of your pretty speeches are lost by parroting echoes. It is I, an audience member, who brings the meaning to your play. By attending it, I shape its relevancy based on how deeply it resonates in my heart.
Let it be proclaimed clearly if only now and at this moment but let it be definitive: The audience is a player and the most important one. They are part of the soul that becomes the pulse of the play, its legacy and what gives it value and meaning. Let it be understood: It is not the play that dictates its own value and meaning. It is not the function of the play itself nor the actors nor the director to explain the show. I am not to be told what is important by a production. No play has divine authority to preach at me its supposed "message" or "relevancy". I could vomit thinking of all the time I have wasted in the presence of such self-righteous goonery falsifying itself as theatre. Yet this misconception of a play's authority to determine its own level of wealth is unfortunately taught and acted upon by those who are, whether knowingly or not, burying in a fixed, peripheral "box" or "institution" what was once a sacred living space for thousands of years worshipped by our ancestors the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as a path to attending the stories of gods resulting in the invitation of the Divine into this mortal realm.
An audience member comes to the theatre, and it is his soul that becomes aware of itself in the expression of the actor he is watching. Yes, I said soul. Theatre is not for the man or woman identified only with her flesh or what is material. That is not the matter at all. Theater is no matter. Theatre is poor and must remain so. Thus, it may deliver all the riches of what is actual and real in its nature.
There is an Invisible Communication between the hearts of the players onstage and with those in the audience. A true moment in the theatre can last a person a lifetime. I've had profound moments in the theatre. When I state: "I am moved by them", I mean these moments, living in the eternal moment of Imagination's pulse, literally move me to take up my pen and respond in kind to the muse who was awakened in the silent witnessing of the event. William Blake said, "Eternity is in love with Time." I will add that Eternity is revealed by the act of a play. Blake's angels and demons are immortal, they live forever and therefore Time Proper has no meaning. Theatre reveals the glory of the human experience. Perhaps, we are angels trapped in Time Proper or we have fallen to this Earthly realm to experience the variations of feelings, the colorful palette, of a dying god's journey: Glory, Despair, Wit, Compassion and Triumph, overcoming the impossible and in our art remembering that we too are part of the divine and in our death, that we too are part of nature and thus, the gift of a lifetime may be truly apprehended, loved and recognized on the stage.
Moments of theatrical revelation are some of the most precious in my life. When one falls in love with someone, the pain and the passion remains, inscribed in the heart. It is the same with the theatrical moment that may be recalled forever. It lasts perhaps a second but the second is stored for infinity and may shape a lifetime in meaning by answering the divine yearning to testify in mortal voices. It is your own moment of recognizable apotheosis within the human formula.
Is theatre wholly dependent on an audience for its magic to be rendered? Yes. I must lend you that which is holy in myself: my belief. And it is paradoxically a belief in a fundamental lie - a lie that what is happening onstage is truly happening. And yet, it is. It is a lie that contains the potential of all that can be true in a human life. It is up to me, the audience member, to believe you and transform the matter into meaning. The moment the audience member beholds something it recognizes in your play, then you have fulfilled the play's prophecy, then you have offered the gift that is theatre. "Yes, yes. I feel that way too. I am not alone." Not only does a writer feel the way you do and with enough yearning to create an entire new person for you to behold, but within the audience the secret conspiracy of isolated suffering is broken: All are mortals. We are the stuff that dreams are made of, beautiful, tragic, divine, and cruel.
The visible actors onstage are masks, part of the façade for the transmission of a much larger phenomenon-taking place. Simply put it includes the recognition of who I am in the identification of myself in other forms. I am at play with myself, with what is great and noble in my spirit when I participate as an audience member.
An actor who plays a part is playing a part of me for me to me. What other exchange can be so private and yet so communal, testifying not just to my own mortal journey but also that I am not a lone passenger in this world? It is a fact, perhaps, that we are all born alone and die alone. Yet that is beside the point. While there is time on this earth, we are each other's comrades in arms: The villains, the saviors, and the heroes in one another's stories. I want something to testify to the honor that it is to do that, to become that in my life and in the lives of others. I want theatre.
In my life, when the play is true, I deepen my own capacity to endure, to celebrate, to experience and to take ownership of this miraculous tragicomedy called life, which I would otherwise take for granted. I have had this experience with theatre and until my final couplet is written, I will work to create the plays and believe in a resurrection of sure and genuine theatre.
Why did other cultures worship theatre as a place of the divine as that which was holy? The Greeks honored theatre - appreciating the important need for the inner self to be recognized as participating in the journey of life. Yes, I am a hero. Yes, I am a villain. Yes, I am a lover. Yes, I am a warrior. Yes, I am a fool. Yes, I am a spirit, a fairie, a ghost, and a wizard. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Dionysus is the god of theatre. He is the exile who would come to offer epiphany through play. He is also the god who loves human enough to return to them after destroyed him. Well, everything but his heart is destroyed by them. His mother is a human and his father is Zeus. After being killed by the Titans (present-day captains of modern industry and Ignorami of internet succubus origins), he is reborn from his heart, the only organ the Titans could not silence. And thus, theatre's heart beats in time to the story of one who has been exiled from society but loves its people enough to return singing to their hearts with his play of ecstasy, wonder, penetration that reveals truth.
Dionysus' meaning was transformed into orgy-sinful-drunk-Bacchus-god as Christianity gained its "divine" authority to idolatrize Jesus Christ and permit no other pagan worship. This occurred over eighteen hundred years ago, and yet, while we now have electricity and airplanes, Western culture is still tyrannizing individuals because of these outdated moral dictates of right and wrong, Heaven and Hell, the propaganda of an inquisition internalized by individual minds to punish their own free creative selves. Do you want to know why graveyards are littered with artists? The society that suicided Van Gogh is the same one which condemns your own Imagination into its early grave.
Christian hypocrisy swears against pagan worship because it is a threat to its own conceit to own the monopoly on direct communication with an exterior Almighty Layman of Hoo-Ha-Ha, Bastard of Bully Bully Mope, and Big Uncle Samsonite that preaches in tongues to shame you into believing you are damned to Hell if you do not meet the approval of the preacher, teacher, father, husband, lover, external authority figure who is to be the commandeer and your only link to understanding this "God". This "chosen" self-anointed bulldog is the vanguard of the Liar Liar Pants on Fire Himself and if you dare cross him, think for yourself and question this covering cherub his position, you will be publically burned - literally the practice has precedent and it is also the greatest trick to insinuate itself in the collective subconscious - Hell, the place where villains suffer forever.
Haha! What a crock of horse manure and yet; even if you do not believe in Jesus Christ, your Psyche has still suffered from the Church who subsumed his message as mandate for its Titanic rise to Papal Supremacy. I only know this because everyone around me seems to speak with compulsive attitudes of "needing to do this" and "having to do that" in order to what? When will this "needing to do things" stop? When will you stop distracting yourself with excuses and rationalizations that you don't believe in anyway. Can you honestly justify how much you hate yourself? Can you justify how much time you spend worrying about nothing real? Can you justify missing the experience of your life? Is it valuable to trick yourself into "needing" and "having to" and "supposed to do" something you don't actually want to do. Sacrifice is not an acceptable model for living. It is only an acceptable model for martyrdom and martyrdom my friend, is outdated. After all, if you do believe the hype, Jesus Christ already died for your sins so stop pretending you have to also.
Are you trying to gain approval? This would be the approval of a literal someone like a boss, but in actuality, it is the compulsive, neurotic urge to pacify an inner predator who can never be pacified. It is lurking in the shadows of your mind and it has convinced you that there is a right and wrong, and if you do the activities of a robotic mongoloid and not address the yearning of your spirit, you will be rewarded. Later. The precedent to be invoked is based on several jealous followers of one man's experience of a life lived over two thousand years ago. These men sanctified themselves and thus, as we all know a Saint does not lie, these Lords of Christ know better than you do about everything and they will help you find your way. Poor little sheep that you are, lost lost lost, tsk, tsk, tsk, they will find a way for you to continue being a sheep. Your own intuition is to be negated and feared, a wolf in sheep's clothing so to speak, and you must shut it up in a cell as tiny as the one you have built to lock in your heart and throw the key in the River Lethe. You are to remain stupid and look to someone else to save your soul because you are clearly as incapable of overcoming yourself as you have been brainwashed to believe.
Worshipping various gods is thus against Christian morality. Greek gods, Hindu gods, Native American spirits - These are mortal inventions to describe how the Eternal experiences Time. They were worshipped and still are in cultures much more time-tested in endurance than ours. They are reflections on the true nature of human experience. We were never meant to be Saints. And the idea of attaining Sainthood through adhering to the right and wrong song of organs corrupted theatre until Moliere and Shakespeare cured this morality plague by resurrecting the craft of poetic invention, inventing plays to win the hearts of human beings because the plays themselves had a heart to share and not a moral message to preach. We call this period "The Renaissance" and it shines with many lights, vibrating to the tune of Leonardo Da Vinci, William Blake, John Milton, John Donne, William Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, and even Queen Elizabeth herself. Their collective brightness illuminates The Dark Ages before it and what would have been the darkness to follow if the legacy of the Renaissance hadn't been appreciated. Great works of genius transmit a tune that resonates in different eras to different individuals. Today we live in a black hole, where all previous light is not found because no one is looking beyond their own computer's interface and no one is finding genius, simply images that load the pages for a book of faces. And our so-called "teachers" only teach the words that lie in the present moment. There is no understanding that all words may lie, and that great ideas redeem the meaning of what words were meant to signify.
Should you think I mean to elevate theatre's status in society, you are not mistaken. However, it would be a tragic error if you think I mean it to be deified as an institution for that is contrary to the point. Theatre must not take itself too seriously, otherwise its art is defiled. Its function nullified. It must not preach anything if it is to be understood by the individual soul. It requires the ability to ask questions that answer themselves within the heart of those who would hear them and not impose on us any claim to moral authority. And therefore it will gain the integrity to call itself "a play".
To play is the most noble synthesis of human desire: to see the unseen represented, a manifestation of our potential to become a limitless number of creations based on decisions we may or may never make. We are what we are not in the witnessing of a play; we are lead to believe in what we could become. It is a magic trick and one that could easily inspire awe if it were left alone to work its wonder without being imposed upon by the dull "cleverness" that haunts the aisles of what are known today as "theaters".
And what I mean by a show of "cleverness" as opposed to characters is indicative of a larger epidemic that is killing theatre as I have discussed it. Its symptoms are words like "purpose": topical agendas that are meant to be in alignment with today's fashions with the intention not to elevate anyone but to put money into the pockets of producers under the pretense that they are honoring the tradition of theatrical pursuit. The divine song is soiled with self-righteous imbecility and no one gains anything but the producers who pocket the cash of the audience and make dupes of us all as we walk away with empty wallets and a soul hunger that was fed cardboard and not the feast which is its right to enjoy.
I challenge anyone reading this to make the theatre that is worth the weight of your damned soul. Theatre then is an offering and the effort to make it is redemption itself, presenting others with the testimony that there is glory is the hardest of struggles and humor in the saddest of stories. Do you need a witness? I would tell you to see a show. I would but I cannot honestly advocate this anymore, and I am sad at that. I grieve the phenomenon I call theatre because for the most part it has apparently become extinct.
What is called "theatre" today is not what it claims to be. It is an exercise in vanity. The vanity of ignorant fools who feign to know something and even propose to have something to say that will educate their counterparts - the audience who are left barren cold and questioning why they paid money for a lecture when they thought they were attending art. They could have just gone to see a movie or a rock concert or gone for a hike in the park. At least they would have had an experience instead of being confused by what has the audacity to claim it has anything to do with the art of the theatre.
If I wasn't clear before here is the purpose of your play: to elevate your audience to the level of gods. Nothing short of that. And it's very simple how to do this: Tell a story that is true and honest and yet inspired and crafted by your Imagination. Win the heart of your audience. Do not try to win their "sponsorship", their "dollar", their "membership". You may succeed in that, but if you make a season around earning revenue, you are missing the point of the whole operation.
Does this shock you? Of course not. Your own conscience tells you this. But you would counter with: "Yes, but theatre costs money. If only we could...I really want to do new work, but I have to have the sponsors."
Bully. First. You do not need money to make theatre. There's a park and benches two blocks from my house. Go! Put on a show! If the play is true, people will come. They are hungry for a play that is true. Not your translated, adapted versions of works that pleased audiences one hundred years ago. They were successes because they pleased audiences one hundred years ago. Find what pleases them most today.
Did you know "sponsors" are actually individual lovers of theatre? They give money because they have seen theatrical magic and want more of it. Please do not pretend a "need", a desperate compulsion, in order to coopt a sponsor to fund your play, but please do compel them to show their love of the play. They appreciate true art crafted just for their soul and they will give you the means to produce more of it. They will have their play, not to fear, but you must give them a play worth a damn. It takes no convincing by you. The play will convince if it is truly a valuable work. Honestly true art is priceless and you will know this as you are making it. Let a person's money represent a small piece of how you have moved them. You are the storyteller, that is your skill, artist of the theatre. And if a person has money to show they appreciate your effort to share with them something they haven't yet been able to share in themselves - Wonderful. But even paupers shall have their story told. And rich men may be paupers as well.
Here is a misconception that seems to have infiltrated repertory companies and "theaters": "Sponsors" (they seem to have forgotten the people part) only sponsor shows they have seen. This is simply a fallacy. Companies are only given opportunities to sponsor shows they have seen.
People will sponsor work that is new. This is the fact of my experience. If the work is good and true, people will pay money so they can see new work. I wonder if you thought that, potential-producer of theatre, or are you simply not thinking for yourself and using a business model to manufacture hackneyed art? Don't ever call yourself an artist or that you are affiliated with the theatrical art, if that is the case. You produce in order to create capital. And you would say you "put on a new playwright" when she succeeded in ten other theatres so her play is "safe" for you to produce it - monetarily speaking. And these "safe" plays are usually not good plays, for the most part, they are topical plays or plays that have been written by the most popular token "female writer" or "lesbian writer" or "black lesbian writer" - to show that a theater institution does not discriminate against gender, sexuality, or race.
Such sacrifice of aesthetic principles is a sin.
Do you want to know why people do not go see theatre anymore? You will not produce plays that speak to their heart now. The living, breathing now. Instead you are producing plays as if you were a museum and showing me what the people of the 1920s enjoyed watching. But I do not live in the 1920s. People are not touched anymore by theatre. And why should they be? Institutions plot out their seasons and it is all mind babble to appease sponsors who they stereotype: "The older folks won't get this play so ..but if we give them a Eugene O'Neill later in the season..." If this sounds like you, I want you to know I find you appalling and I discredit your "theater". I wish you would give the charade up and find your "success" on Wall Street where you belong. And if you would not then hark: Theatre's magic is in the heart. Not the head. It doesn't make sense based on dollars or even based on time. What does your heart tell you about the play? If it remains silent, let the play go unperformed. This isn't brain surgery.
Producers, you are the vanguards, the shepherds of a most Noble aesthetic tradition: The art that tells the story of being human to human beings in the present moment. This is the art of human feeling, of human struggle, the art that reflects the time of our life. The art that is most alive because it is living in the hearts of the whole production, audience included. Show me that. Redemption itself. For me. For your audience member. For those who want to see, to know in our souls, we are not alone in our feelings of guilt, and shame, lust, love, and glory.
Dear potential-producer, remember why you came to your profession. Was it the mischievous glance of the Fool? Was it a woman in love with a man? Was it a tyrant who made you root for him? Preserve that moment in time by reliving it anew in the playwrights you would produce, the actors you would cast and the visionaries you would have direct. It is the same story, but remember it is the story of all time: A story not limited and confined by fashion, style, topic, nor agenda and you qualify to tell it just by being born one fine day.
Remember the time when you put on plays and you were broke? Did you have fun? That's all that matters. Theatre is always worth the effort if you believe in its inherent value. Potential-producer of this Sacred Art: Don't miss out. Theatre is not a burden and fie if it has become one for you. There is desperation reflected in how you feel you need to replicate the calendar of another hackneyed theater institution's "season".
If you would have a theatre, have the guts to make the season satisfy your own palette's hunger. Remember, you will have the time of your life if you will pursue this mission. You will be rich where it counts, a Knight Errant perhaps; Don Quixote lives forever in all hearts, an archetype for all time. Truth beyond reason and yet it is so. Theatre is an impossible dream. So go make it for the sake of showing what is Real. It is the most fantastical adventure you can imagine. Go the distance and discover how amazing it can be and how very acceptable it is to be "just human", a character extraordinary, one of a kind, and at the same time, one with all mankind.
Then, you allow me and all who would see your plays, to exercise the divine spark in my soul. It is that which has the power to believe in the truth of possibilities that have yet to be, have never been, or are considered impossible heretofore by my own life experience; and yet show me theatre that I can believe in and I will overcome my mortal knowing and believe that more life, different life, an impossible life is possible.
Theatre was pure and chaste when the actors were beggars - traveling minstrel shows who sang the song of life because they had an experience to share with their audiences and it brought them joy to sing and connect to people. They were always given all that they needed. Not more. Not less. This is what I want to walk away with when I attend the play. The satisfaction of experiencing something true, something that says what I do not say. Give me an honest stage and not a preacher's pulpit.
Shakespeare's plays are still being produced but that is all most of them are: productions. Hollow empty shells of what they used to mean. They are historical artifacts. Most producers do not even know that Hamlet was a real person. No, not Shakespeare's son, Hamnet. Prince Hamlet the Dane. And that Shakespeare took a man's life and decided to change it for his own design. Why? Who knows? Thank God he did and truly, why is not important. I must declare this to my own Idiot Questioner. "Why" is the voice of the head. That Hamlet was created in Shakespeare's "I" for eternity to know - that is the heart of the matter. I've experienced the dramatist's joy of discovering my character's pulse and that it is different from my own. This discovery, again, belongs to the realm of falling in love and, my god, if I am not compelled by any means necessary to share it. Believe me, characters who people relate to, who people love and care about, they will speak louder than a producer's agenda any day. They are the force of the Daemonic Urge and they make mountains move to hear them. They magnetize actors, money, directors and the proper place as if it were ordained somewhere by the twice-birthed god, Dionysus himself. The characters who are created from his spirit are almost like children, these characters, they want to play so badly, and so they do. My experience is, in fact, that they find their audience regardless of which theatre has turned them away. Again, I invoke the visionary William Blake (who if he lived today would be most likely chastised into silence with some invention of the mental health inquisition): "Eternity is in love with time". I add again: "And her characters are sent to play with you there." Eternity has an infinite number of characters, as many as the stars in the sky, as many as the number of human beings who have ever lived on this planet and who will ever live on it. All of us are having the same journey.
There is enormous value in continuing to read Shakespeare and I believe I will be reading him in wonder and marveling at this man until the day I die. Yet let me be bold and say, Hamlet's days of incarnation on the stage may be over. Make no mistake: I say this because people walk away from the Dane confused. They think he is crazy and are unsure of his antic. Directors feel Hamlet needs their interpretation or that their interpretation adds something to Shakespeare's plot.
The time to play Shakespeare may not be now. This is due to a number of factors outside of the scope of this article. I am not here to talk about the loss of literary aesthetics, but to expose the death of theatre, why it is happening and how it may come again.
It will not if you continue to demand Shakespeare's relevancy and spoon-feed your audience's interpretations that limit and diminish the significance of the Bard's act. It is conceit to translate and adapt Shakespeare for us. This is not the model for theatre. You do not play us - your audience. You play for us. We come to play with you.
Shakespeare wrote plays for the masses. He was the chief playwright of Queen Elizabeth's court and he won that honor because he spoke directly to the audience of that time period. There was no translator needed, no adaptation, and no artificial contextualization. There is still none of this needed and yet you do it. But, I digress.
Yes, Shakespeare did use stories from history because they were relevant to him. So what. Use history to tell relevant stories to the present time but don't pretend a story is about a circumstance when it clearly is not and never intended to be.
Rather than interpreting Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra as a comment on the current state of Middle Eastern affairs and the United States' relationship to this volatile sphere of the globe, write a play that says directly what you want to say or give money to a writer that is saying something new no matter how absurd, or go buy yourself a podium and say what you want to say for godsakes in words that you yourself may understand without consulting cliff notes.
Institutions that would call themselves "theaters" congratulate themselves for taking on the Bard and bringing him to the masses under the guise of flashy productions that can be valued at one hundred dollars a ticket; and the person who is a ticketholder is diminished to the role of onlooker, voyeur, confused by an act of defamation and fraud. I cannot tell you how many people I take to see Shakespeare and how confused and stupid they feel afterwards. That is not Shakespeare. And theatre is never to be a demonstration of "cleverness". May you look to your newspapers or op-ed articles for such stuff. You are not stupid, audience member and you deserve theatre that reflects the wisdom inherent in any mortal taking this journey we call life. What you witness when you go to theatre today is not driven by sincerity but by capital gain.
Are you offended? No? Yes? I say Be offended. You are being made to play the idiot and the producers and directors have reduced you to signifying nothing but the size of your wallet and what you will pay to see this sham.
Those who produce theatre, do not coopt the words of a master for your own particular agenda. Do not put on Shakespeare the present circumstances of today. Would he do that to you? I doubt it, because he had his own soul and work to do; do yours. Shakespeare thought of himself as a craftsman; learn your craft. It is a lie that you need to continue his legacy by producing his plays.
Shakespeare is. He will never not be. He is that awesome.
Try this. Shakespeare was a man. So you are also a man or woman. Shakespeare lived and died at fifty-two. Will, however, lives on. What can you gain from this? Will you become a master too? Ask for Will. He is unavoidable. All you have to do is say: Yes, I Will make something new. Forget the can and forget the need. Look to the Will and then you will know in your heart where Falstaff, Hamlet, Cleopatra, and Iago were born.
Current "kow-towing" to Shakespeare as if he were an "untouchable" does you no complement nor complements him. Make him "untouchable" and all theatre is dead because he is all theatre. In fact, this kind of admiration or "homage" is like spitting on his grave. You alter, change, obscure his words by using his works to create excuses for expensive light shows and period pieces about World War II.
If you cannot understand Shakespeare, first accept that you may not be dumb and you do not have to compensate that you do not hear the meaning in the iambs. Shakespeare is a poet and he is also a poet speaking at a different time, using a different way of expressing the language. Either learn this expression - it is worth the time it takes - or simply, do not and revel in the dramatists and poets who speak more to your liking. But do not impose what you want to say on that which has been said with the force of a god behind it. Become a god yourself.
If I am wrong, good. I would like you to prove me wrong. I speak from the direct experience which shows me that this unabashed accusation that theaters do not perform theatre is in fact the reality. I've heard it said more than once: "Your voice is so new. I would love to produce one of your plays but I need you to write a play about this topic because I need to make x amount of dollars this season. And y topic is what is selling all over the country. Can you write a play like "Venus in Fur"? If you cannot maybe you could direct an adaptation of Hamlet?" The new play is silenced by the dollar, chastised by institutions that are killing the same theatre they would claim to produce. Harken yet throttle-headed bearded blaguards bastarding the artist's profession: Art never need uphold any institution, but is, by its very nature, designed to express the new in a way that cannot be confronted by social taboo because it is art and not a non-fiction op-ed piece. Make no mistake: we are the stuff that dreams and nightmares are made of and art will testify to that where your doctors and accountants fall short. But in this moment, there is no art but the propaganda of personality and even Shakespeare is taken on for the purpose of winning favor, not in the heart, but in the admiration of idolaters who would dog you out of a penny. At present, the houses of theatre are not more than eulogies for dead writers and dead audiences. Art is not safe. Art allows for the preservation of your soul at the expense of your ego's tripe. It is Dionysian dismemberment so you may feel your heart beat out the glorious tunes: I am alive.
Institutionalized "theaters" have become relegated to whorehouses and its producers are the pimps. Yet, I am a playwright, the same as was Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill and David Mamet. I refuse to be a whore and debase the whole of my profession by colluding as a scam artist to make you and your cohorts some money. Why? So you can put on another season of plays that demean the very audience you demand pay for your bunk.
Theatre is not a moneymaking endeavor and anyone who pursues its art knows this and accepts this. We find our means of support elsewhere in order to keep the thing we love chaste and pure and unadulterated from the petty concerns of the cash market. If I make a living writing for the theatre, it will always be a simple living and yet, so much the better honor for me to honor the riches of my Imagination and not the bankruptcy of a life dependent upon how much money I make.
Shakespeare gave you his Will: He decreed unto us all so many wonderful incarnations of human life, and remarkable expressions of human longing, pain, torment, wit, and wisdom. What will you do with your time on earth, my fellow thespian? What is in your Will? To find out, I urge you to write with as much integrity and authenticity as you are able or take on plays that speak to your soul. Do your best. Then you honor the play. Give yourself the opportunity to be a divine creator, not a hackneyed mimic of a master who you will never be and never know in the way you think you do.
We are Shakespeare's children. We have inherited a wonderful legacy that we can be excited about continuing, but we will never be Shakespeare's master. He needs no interpretation. He speaks for himself. We honor him when we do the same. Give yourself the gift of Shakespeare: To thine own self be true. If you love his work, do your own. His work is finished. Let him rest in peace. I guarantee he is not flattered by an admiration founded on resentment and a misunderstanding; and yet, if you write, create, produce what Shakespeare means to you, in your own words, if you let him inspire you to speak the potential of your soul as he did then you honor the man, the work, the poetry and you do not bury him in a wooden casket. Then and only then does the Bard live. The Bard lives eternally and he is all that you are and all that you could be and all that you will be in the stories you share with your audience.
You who would call yourself thespian (producer, director, actor, designer - let me not pretend I am not speaking directly for your ears): You do not become smarter, better or more profound by producing, directing, or acting Shakespeare's plays or any play and if that is how you come to Shakespeare or to produce any writer: I pity you and all of these mass of bodies that you would call "plays", this mutilation of the holy art form that was conceived of thousands of years before you or I or Shakespeare was born. You are in truth, the victim of your own ego's endeavor: "an idiot signifying nothing" and you will never live on in eternity by taking on the words of a man who will.
I implore you, before you try to "take on Hamlet". Take on yourself. Try. Just try. In the effort, you contact the Divine. It is your Imagination and it waits for you to acknowledge its perfection. Recognize you too have poems to share and maybe they are not in pentameter, but they speak in present prose. And I would want to see that. If you could call those stories into the living theatre, I will be your champion and howl at the moon for Thespis and his friends to come and see the play.
My purpose is not to preach and I apologize if my passion is the sound that pounds loud on concrete pavement. I seek only but to tell you what is happening to a tradition I love and am in love with and one that I believe will change lives because it has changed my own. If you are inspired by anything I write, I am happy, and if you are not, I am happy still. You may call a friend and curse the writer. Good. You may write the editor and scream that I should never have been allowed these pages. Fantastic. You may take up the challenge I present and write a play that is your own work or endorse an original one. Awesome. Awe-inspiring, if you do. The most important conclusion is to determine whether what I write is true for you and talk about how and why you respond as you do with your fellows, potential audience members, investors who have the option or not to put their money on theater as it is or to develop something so old it would be appear new if it came to be again.
This is what I believe about theatre: If a stage is to be fully actualized it must have something on it worth elevating, worth recognizing by the collective soul that speaks directly in the language of now. If it is Shakespeare or Euripides or even George Bernard Shaw with a token female that saves your facade, theatre has been transformed to a mausoleum and the director is simply the tour guide to King Tutankhamen's tomb. And what am I, the audience member, supposed to do with that? Would you like me to applaud you? No. I betray myself if I do. Would you have me stand for you? Why? When you will not stand for me.
We are the inheritors of our own divine spirit. When I read Shakespeare, when I undergo the intimate communion with his work, I am inspired to connect with the one that is appreciating this glorious text - that which is the divine in me. Yes. I will write differently from Shakespeare. I am a different incarnation happening at a different time. I exist many days after the days of Shakespeare; and yet in the process of connecting to the universes he created I elevate myself to the same eternal realm in which lie the infinite possibilities and articulations of my divinity. It is the space where Antony, Horatio, Hamlet become my John, Jane, Joe, Deborah, Anthony, Angie, Tony, Bear, Flannery Shepherd, Lola MacDonald, and George.
Let theatre play and let those who would come to its door be honored with the integrity that they who have traveled this dusty road of life deserve. Let them be kings and queens, heroes and villains that they identify in the heart of today. Stop telling Shakespeare's stories when I believe your heart is begging you to attend to its own story in your own words or way.
Let us all have a witness for godsakes. Then, you would honor all that is Noble in yourself. You would become a living part of the tradition that is theatre: If you would play for me, then I get to play with you and then we are living a divine communion and theatre is not dead but reborn night after night with each new performance.
It is vital to the state of all that could be potentially sacred about this damned profession disguising itself as a theatre to pay heed to what is or is not happening within this art form. When all you leave with after a play is an obligation to take a picture of yourself at the theatre that says you went to a show, I believe it is time to reconsider going to the event at all.
If you love theatre, if it has lit up your life in some way then perhaps you believe the perspective I voice has value. If you do not, I do not care because I am responsible to say my peace as one who defends that which is Glorious in her life. I believe that theatre is infinite in its value and what passes for it today is a poor replacement. Say something back if you can. Defend your present excuse for a theater and tell me how it satisfies you. Do so and that becomes a conversation I could get behind. Ah, but know this, I have already spoken my peace. Yours will be on the stage. Let me not presume you have understood: Your response to this essay will be the theatre that you make.
So, if you are angry by "the infamous sword of Copeland", "if you want to put me in my place", to prove to me I am a "villain", don't stop because I am a woman. No, that would be too easy. I suggest the following: Blast me away with a play where I, a playwright, am the villain of your theatre. Write a play where a playwright - feminine or masculine does not the difference make - condemns your excuse for a theatre and says "Bollacks" with a flick of the chin, like the old Italian Mafioso movies or perhaps throws down her glove in the middle of a rehearsal: "Fie thou Peeled Priests! A pox on thy parroting. Parry forth a papless point? Appall Shame!" Indeed pentameter would be nice for the play too as well as transforming a few nouns into verbs to hide a curse or two. Whose literary precedent would I have you invoke in your defense? Yes, Shakespeare's. And this is the way you would honor, rather than mooch off a master. Indeed, when Will is there, one is truly on the right track.
Now, I don't mind if Will be garnered out of a feeling of Vengeance. Don't let that stop you. I wouldn't be able to anyway if you will have it be so. Hark! A Fighter's Spirit! Ha-Ha! You would champion yourself? Better yet: You would stand and be recognized for your petty paunch of a theatre! (Please picture I purposefully pronounce these proclamations by spitting my "Ps" as if my paradoxical pen were to prophesy, "A plague on all your Houses of Mummicry!")
Well, do you have Will's will to respond in kind? Or nay, will you rationalize your silence and say that it takes too much money to avenge a sorry-sot such as thee? Will you fight to make your tripe-to-toll-a-trollop convincing as a theatrical pursuit?
I would love to see you try.
I mean to be serious. It would be wonderful. Villains and heroes and pentameter to spare, willed out of Vengeance or Defiance or the Strength to Prove Your Name Be True! Have you a Will to seek your own Redemption? Alarum and Sound the Bell, is that my father's ghost or indeed, could it be true? A Will! A Will! Harken my heart is racing in excitement to see it work!
I challenge you thusly, if you can say something to refute my words, do so on the stage. If it is true, I will find it. Redemption, indeed, but you must fight for it. Laertes and Hamlet. Are we to shake hands? Come then, and pluck a poesy for a villain ho! She will have herself be plucked for her prose. She may be quite new, but she is unquestionably Real enough to fill a theatre if you would perform her. Tell my story, then. Tell your own. Do you have the juice yet? Do you have the fight left? I believe you haven't begun to fight for anything. I believe you may be more robotic than a finger scrolling its book of faces. A footnote in history is our time. Nothing but the blackest space in the sky, two constellations framing it, lighting upon the other, but in us, a black hole and nothing but a tomb of trifles and trollop to fill it. No light. No legacy. Dead. There are times in history where no ideas occur. These are called dark ages for a reason and some of them are hundreds of years long. Perhaps, in time, you will fight for your light to be seen. Eternity will wait for a will to prove itself always. It just waits for no man. Aye, there's the rub, Captain. So is the journey worthy? Shall you embark upon the uncharted waters and fight your white whale? You may call her Copeland if you will not find another. And fight against a land that is coping and not living. Invent a land that is a wonder to behold, one where the earth is made from the possibility of human beings who overcome their own self-doubt and are free to create more of what they will cherish. Neither a borrower or a victim be, if a brave new world is thriving with so many characters in it.
Personally, I am rooting for you to call out what is truest in yourself. Find, discover, shoot and share. After all, a constellation that lights up the sky is formed by many stars all aglow as one. Who knows? Perhaps our time may be redeemed. Maybe it will be as bright as a white whale in dark waters. One who spouts a fountain of secrets that can be seen in a hearts feeling of recognizable shame, glory, defeat, woe, and hope. Such is the will of human beings: to share in the experience so what is hoped for in all of us does not die in vein but becomes our will to the future who would remember us in time. We, too, were soldiers of life and embraced the stuff that our dreams are made of instead of turning a blind eye in fear of monsters and ghosts. Fear is a poem's bliss. So come shadows come and hail down storms! Attack every one of them with a pen posed and ready. Sleigh them in a solid eulogy on the stage. If they have haunted you for decades, give the devils their due: a glorious apotheosis that your audience may share as you exorcise a human. Macbeth was a man before a made-to-monster. And thus, what is called sin in society is the devil's angel who would be crowned Hamlet on a stage.
Harken all: We must fight to play as we must fight to live authentically. Why? Because it is worth it. Why do your best work? Because it is right for you to do it and no one else can. Do your work. Do your part. Everyone gets to play because everyone can and maybe it is not theatre that speaks to you but some other mode of art or some other way in which you express your divinity to the rest of us. But let theatre not be neglected and underestimated as it is currently. What is being done to it is nothing short of a rape when it should be made love to and sanctified as an eternal bride. Let us not have a topical play. Let us play poetry!
Theatre is not just a privilege to be shown to a selected few. It is for all of us who are here on this earth to be elevated in an experience that expresses the true power of the human creator: to believe, to believe even when it says it is not Real. I contend that if what happens to you in theatre cannot be described as real it is because theatre is beyond Real --- It is sacred and when you participate you activate the great god within you.
Shakespeare is the astral dragon illuminating with his fiery breath the possibility of becoming a phoenix rising from the flame that he created to sing to the tune of your own original voice among his many shining constellations. One of them is Samuel Beckett. He exclaims, "God is proved by Exhaustion". I hover, admire, and move on. The evidence of my own flight are the feathers that fall, the characters who are cohabited by living actors, and this falling will in the end create a time where I too may rest in peace. There is no better way to burn. There is no better way to experience life. We are all dying every moment of this living dream. So let us make the most of the time we share together. Let us live under the auspices of what will become.
There is nothing wrong save Minister Death.
He makes sense lie incensed e'en I too dumb,
I beat to pound at my art, heart whilst thrown
Into hell. Here it lay and burning well
How sweet love strikes and blesses thee in kind
Rapturous begetter, I would have thine.
When the poem is true so are the lines.
Dull verses make the hearses that carry
Our fine. Death is certain and life unsure,
Attack life with symphony and raise Death
Once more. Amuse the muse for I fall sick -
With love by love, I perform the True trick.
Myself, at last? Arrived at the bell's blast?
Get off the floor. You know how. Go and dance.
What is your will? Not base animal "need" which is satisfied by food, water and shelter. Not what you have been told you "have to do" to appease your ego's notion of fame, fortune, or importance in society. Society exists in time and it will change in time. Forget about your function in society for a moment. What is your Will? When you follow it you are a daemonic force of limitless energy and self-overcoming potential. Your Will is the connection to the Master. And I do not just mean Shakespeare. Don't forget who you are and what makes your life mean something. Is it out there that has the definition of your life's meaning? Is it quantifiable in dollar signs? Is it satisfied in the approval you may never receive from a parent or authority figure or love interest? Or does your life mean something because you will have it so? Wanting meaning is not the same as creating it. Wanting only creates doubts. You may want to have a new play, but if you do not will it so you will produce "Venus in Fur" for the two hundred and thirty-third time and rationalize your cowardice with a lame excuse.
Remark, perhaps a warning: You will what you want but you will never have what is willed. You cannot own the Will or what is Willed because like theatre, the Will is alive. It is energy becoming other forms. Whatever you will become is for the well of your choice but it will not stop because of an ego's constraint. Surrender to it and find yourself so horrifically alive, perhaps for the first time since you screamed yourself out from your mother's womb. It may be a force of good or evil. You will not be able to judge it. When a Will is there, the ego's condemnations are irrelevant or rather, the judgments that have become the prison bars of your Psyche, of your soul, dissolve to allow for its own Glory. Freedom is not a terrible burden to be carried. Freedom is a force that carries itself on the mighty gusts of the Will.
I would say "force" and not "power", as the word itself has become corrupt, but imagine, if you will, surrendering to the beating of your heart and as it grows louder, you grow more Alone, but you are never lonely anymore. Monsters appear and are seen. "Invisible" you proclaim: "Not Real". And perhaps, you sleigh them with your sword, your voice, or your pen. They will become the spirits that haunt your play that it may live for Eternity's amusement.
So my Free Will, Free Heart, Free Soul: What will you do with your time on earth. What do you mean? What do want to say? Please do take a theatrical moment to discover, uncover, and unguard anything antithetical that obstructs your honest purpose.
To free your will, find it. Find out what it is that yearns in you to speak. Become your Yearning. Yearn so loudly that it becomes a Howl.
Do you hear that, children? Orpheus is playing his fiddle. Mountains are moving. Eternity is dancing again on Earth. She will have her play. I will to wit it. Let's show each other how to love our own time. There's not a moment to spare but a lifetime to share these, our dusty dreams, the stuff that theatre is made to honor.