why words fail

I’ve been pretty down on theater lately. Who cares? Who reads this other than my five friends? (That’s fine, btw. xo! Yeah!)

But blogs are created and disseminated and read because of the existence of other blogs about the same thing–news, politics, music, sex. It’s a pretty useful case study re: the distribution/dissemination of information and interest. People care because other people care.

And no one cares about theater, and frankly these days, neither do I. Or rather, je t’aime…moi non plus, as a great Frenchman once said.

So, words. I’ve always had a problem with plays, with doing plays, with scripts, because most of the time I read a script I think, “oh, this is interesting–but what does it need me for?” By the time I read the dramatis personae, I’m done. The world is complete in the words of the script, what do I add to it and why should I care to do so? (Of course, there are exceptions to this). And lately, in my work, I’ve cared very little about words on stage. Speaking doesn’t help me. I have nothing to say.

Deb Margolin, my mentor and friend, just sent me the graduation speech she delivered at a high school for troubled (at risk?) youth. Here’s what she said about theater:

Now I’m bringing up theater because it’s the way I know, the way I’ve learned, to express myself in a venue that is both deeply personal and richly communal; I’m bringing up theater because it is one of the most exciting, galvanizing and effective means of social change, and I’m bringing up theater because it is an art form that both celebrates and transcends the failure of language at the same time. Have you noticed that language fails? That you try to express something and your parents just stare at you? And look at me, up here talking all this time! Language brings us as close as we can get to the edges of each other, and then there’s this abyss, the space that separates one mortal soul from another, and from that shore we lament, we reach toward each other in longing.

But theater, see: theater is not just about what’s said, it’s about what cannot be said, it is as much about the subtext of a line, about the silence in a space, as it is about what is said, and so the failure of language is a part of the language of the theater. It’s pretty brilliant. And in the theater, we sit next to others in the dark, and we imagine ourselves, we see ourselves in the people on stage. I mention the theater because it is the only place where you have absolute permission to stare at people. You can’t do it on the bus, you can’t do it on the subway, people have guns in the tristate area. In the theater, we go and stare at people, because theater takes place in the flesh, it is of the body; we stare at the actors and compare ourselves to them, physically, sexually, morally and spiritually. When we have finished watching or presenting a piece of theater; whether we are on the audience’s side or the actor’s side of the curtain, we rise from a sudden community, and we are changed. If we have done our jobs as actors or as citizens of an audience, we are changed.

And Theater takes place not just on stage, either; it takes place in the street, in the classroom; in prisons and homes and community centers and corner delis; those circumstances in which we observe humanity, advance ourselves towards others, and make adjustments in our perceptions of the world from those tender observations, I would posit, are moments of the Theater. And Theater is made not just of “exciting” moments; true theater is a theater of the everyday; a theater in which a single person’s experience is exemplary of conflict and resolution, we do not require a war, or a rape, or a court scene to create humanity or immediacy in the theater. If we are each tiny points at which the entire universe expresses itself, then each of us is enough; our desires, our obsessions, the way we cry when a radio commercial for Car Cash comes on, the way we stare at people’s hands: each of us contains enough drama for a lifetime, and each of us is enough. We need not be any older, taller, thinner, stronger, better or worse looking than we are, to make theater, by which I mean to create recognizable, watchable humanity within a community. I love the theater; make theater with me. If you should wish to do so, call me immediately, my number is xxx-xxx-xxxx*. Just call me.

* In the speech, she read her actual cell phone number.

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