What’s old is new again (?)

The 2006 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe

Coming home…

Sometimes a piece of art in early stages is filled with a certain kind of special newness.

It’s a fluttering, butterfly feeling, a buoyancy that fills me with brilliance and space. It feels like being full of something delightfully lemony and bright. It feels like opening a door a crack and peaking into a possible future full of light.

It can be with a person – an actor or co-creator. But it just as easily could be a bit of writing, a song, an inspiration, the kind of process you’ve just discovered.

It’s a creative crush, this affinity and affection. I think of this thing, the who or what I’m falling for, and it starts to feel like a piece of me. Or rather, it feels like I am beginning to know it, and I like it, and I want to be even more a part of it. It feels like it could become a piece of me, lifting me up and making me better. I want to mesh these two separate things – the work and myself – into a single whole.

In the wanting to be filled up with this deliciousness I treat my memories of this bit of text written or character choice. I do it over and over. I listen to the same snippet of music or replay in my mind this or that scenic choice. I take it out when I’m blocked like a secret piece of candy, mining this tiny taste of sweet for sustenance. And through this replaying of little moments, obsessing and relishing in the details like a gushy teenager, I think of where this thing might go in the future. I think about our potential happily ever after.

It’s sort of like falling in love. Falling in love the way one would with a potential lover, but instead with my work, with my own capacity for creation.

And while it does feel that way, like love, I think that love is not exactly the right way to describe this feeling. I think it’s closer to desire, infatuation. Closer because the feeling gives a glimpse at something perfect and mysterious without letting one in on all the arduousness of specificity, of actually having to do the work of completing the promised outcome.

Perhaps in art as in life, infatuation and love feel confusingly similar, but are not quite the same.

Desire, need, infatuation are emotions based in hunger and lack. They are shadows, mere glimpses at potential. And I think it is only possible in absence of the whole where one can maintain an imagined perfection.

As I once heard someone say, there are two kinds of art works – perfect ones and finished ones.

Love is something different. It grows out of actually weathering through the test of stress and time. It is a gathering. Of knowledge. Of familiarity. Of fault. Of history. It is precise in a way that infatuation cannot be, because it is built on actual details and shared experience.

I think that our artistic work is like a romantic partner. It is a relationship we have to manage over time. And I think that in our art, as in our personal lives, we need to define what kind of partnership we believe in having with our companion. Do we seek a turbulent but intense bond that is unknowable and always elusive? Or do we work our way to a cozy if duller comfort?

Perhaps this is where the myth of the wild art of youth comes from. The work of our 20’s is like the kind of boyfriends one had right out of college. They are a bit messy and dangerous. They hurt you and teach you where you need to keep yourself protected. But they mean so very very much. They have moments that seems so impossibly intense and lovely that even if they turn out terribly, you love them for their failures.

Are these early plays the ones we settle down with? Or do we instead slowly grow into our art? As we grow we begin to revisit things we initially passed over because they weren’t shiny enough. We tackle subjects and modes of working that we couldn’t quite grasp the depth of in the first go round. And we stop trying so hard to impress and begin to steep ourselves in tenderness and support, in a making that is deeper and perhaps more lasting…

Is one better? I don’t know. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

The first full piece I premiered in Philadelphia was a show I created called The Ballad of Joe Hill. I made that work in 2006. And this fall I will be presenting it again after seven years.

This seems a little impossible – seven years for a work to come to fruition. That a thing I started during a time in my life that was intensely uncertain will find a new form when so much of who I am and what I do is now known. This piece, which is one that examines what a life is worth and how we make it so, is one that began a relationship with so many of the people I now think of as home. And it is one that I have often looked back fondly on for the sheer creative ineptitude and blind luck and intuitive spirit that guided its creation. It was a piece born out of those infatuated seeds. It was a piece I wept and worried and laughed over at every step of its creation. And in watching it again, in thinking about what was there that first go round, I see so many things that still lift me up with light. And I wonder what it will mean to go back there.

Can I find love within this thing borne of infatuation?

Or perhaps I’m simply framing this all wrong.

If desire is steeped in anonymity and vulnerability and love in recognition and protection, perhaps my question ought not to be whether one is better than the other. Perhaps I do not need to assume that the thing must be one or the other.

Maybe my question should be whether they must be mutually exclusive.


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