Dating and the Arts…

When I was growing up in a small New England town, interracial marriages were non-existent. In fact, I never saw interracial relationships of any kind. Yet here we are some years later and those constraints no longer exist. Halleluiah for the human capacity for change!

Sadly, one thing that ought to have changed long ago but remains a stubborn social relic for the women of my generation is waiting for the man to do the asking. Most, if not all of my single female friends are past mid-life and still waiting for a man to ask them out on a date. I want to tell them that this is the 21st century, that their daughters are practicing the freedoms these mother’s have supposedly won through the “women’s lib movement”. But I’m not sure it will change how they feel, what they believe, or how they behave. One woman I recently asked about why women our age still wait for a man to “make the first move” related 2 or 3 early attempts at being the initiator failing and so she gave up.

I don’t know what the statistics are for the average number of times a man asks a woman out and gets rejected, but if I had quit after 2 or 3 tries I would have led a monastic life and never enjoyed parenting my two lovely children. As any male in America can tell you, you just have to learn to pick yourself up and try again. It’s unpleasant, but part of the responsibility of having the need for intimacy. If you want something and are exercising your right to be free, then failure to reach your goal comes with the exercise. Occasionally, by some mysterious process, you do, in fact, succeed.

One of the many roles that artists play is that of social critic or revolutionary. As filmmakers or actors, for example, we have to know about social norms and cultural constraints in order to honestly portray and explore the humanity of the characters we represent. And in doing so, we get to poke fun at, satirize, ridicule, even create new versions of human behavior in film and on stage. It’s both a thrilling and weighty responsibility.

Anthony Hopkins at the premiere of Proof at th...

In “Howard’s End”, for example, Anthony Hopkins’ character must remain silent about his feelings for Emma Thompson’s: those were the social constraints of the times. But, I can’t help wondering what those marvelously gifted actors thought about their characters and those times and how that research affected their personal lives. I was squirming in my chair every time Hopkins’ character didn’t reveal his love for Thompson’s. I was ready to scream out, “Tell her! You fool!”

This is one of arts’ many gifts: shining a light on the way we behave and letting us question whether such behavior is worthwhile, necessary, or helpful. We tell and listen to stories to see if and how a character changes and we learn from that. Sometimes we learn that it’s painful to keep behaving the same way while expecting different results. Sometimes we learn that certain social constraints are no longer necessary or functional.

So, to all those mid-life women living in that old, sad story where they are waiting for a man to ask them out, I ask: Aren’t you ready for a change? Just look at what it’s gotten you… I’ve been listening to your stories and the evidence is clear. As the writer William Edward Hickson wrote:

‘Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try, try again.

I Salute You! Only If You Read On…

When we were kids and fought with our brother or sister or school friend and our parents said, “You’ve got to learn to get along”, they were right.

But what does “get along” mean? Tonight, you saw a play about a man who thought he could “get along” as a priest, but found out that the thing he was missing wasn’t possible as a priest. He was, sadly, unable to “get along”. It was the tragedy of his life—a life spent unaware of that most basic of human needs—intimacy.

That’s what “get along” means, doesn’t it? To connect with and relate to others in such a way that all concerned meet their basic needs for intimacy. It means helping one another, loving one another, touching one another, and so forth.

We can survive without meeting this elementary need, but that is all we will be doing—surviving. Not really living, thriving, or realizing our full potential as human beings.

Tonight, you’ve sat in a theatre—in this case someone’s living room—and for an hour you’ve “got along” with all the other people in the room. You’ve felt and witnessed the tragedy of a man who simply wanted to but couldn’t find a way to “get along” You’ve had this experience. It’s yours and you can remember it, always.

What will you do now? How will you take that out into your life outside the theatre? What will you create with it?

Because, you see, this is why we invited you here tonight. This is why we’ve presented this particular play: because we want to inspire you to do something wonderful, daring, creative with what you’ve given yourself through your own experience. Through coming here tonight. We set this up so that you could see and experience yourself and share in this collective experience of “getting along”. And our hope, our wish, our intention is to inspire you to go out and do something that helps everyone “get along”. Because when we all do that, think of the world we can create together.

What happens on stage… Part 1

Stepping out onto the darkened stage, you hear the audience breathing almost as one. A few last minute coughs and clearing of throats and suddenly, silence. Expectation is palpable. The lights will come up in a minute or two, but in what feels like seconds and eternity at once you stand there in the dark, listening to your blood pulsing through your body.

Maybe you take a deep breath, apply some training and skill to help you relax. And you’re aware, too, of all the other things that came out on stage with you tonight. Those things that you have to sequester in a room inside yourself with duct tape across their mouths because they’ll try to interrupt your show with their show, or maybe some of them will secretly blend in with this character’s humanity and squawk inside the character’s voice and you’ll let them because you have to. Some of them sit boldly on stage with you. Some of them remain invisible to the audience. And it’s all happening at once in this whirling, speeding moment of now.

Maybe you hear your father’s shattering voice once again proving he was right all along: that you’re worthless, will never amount to anything. Every little wound you suffered, every scar revealed, no matter how slight, ready to burst open, infected with the pus of the past. It’s all there, available, as it should be. This is the hazardous material of your profession: your particular life’s story. But you don’t get to wear a Hazmat suit. You must be brave, unprotected, fearless and aware of the dangers at the same time.

And you know there’s no turning back. In a moment the lights rise, the darkness abandons you and you’re standing alone on a stage with strangers staring at you, waiting, wondering, analyzing, judging, sensing, probing with their curiosity, and you have to speak, to be someone for them: to be at once yourself and something metaphysical; to be fully human, vulnerable, and cogent.

Every night you go out there expecting less will show up: less of the past, less of the harsh elements of this moment, less of the things you’ll face in the audience: their boredom, their judgments, their disappointment, their perfectionism, their inability to accept themselves.

But somehow, as if by magic, there are stunning moments of communion, of silent conversation, of a kind of brilliance that doesn’t belong to one person but is some kind of mass genius that arises from some hidden source and breathes and moves everyone along on a thrilling ride into the heart of humanity. You and they are one in thrall to it.

Then whatever you’ve brought on stage and whatever they’ve brought to their seats tonight gets used, sorted out, discarded for the moment and becomes grotesque and beautiful all at once. And everyone who wants to be is transformed.

Those that can’t be or don’t want to be; those that resist or remain unavailable to the genius of the evening go home wondering what everyone else was talking about. Or not wondering at all.

And then it’s over… for tonight.