“The theater invites the mind to share a delirium which exalts its energies; and we can see, to conclude, that from the human point of view, the action of theater, like that of plague, is beneficial, for, impelling men to see themselves as they are, it causes the mask to fall, reveals the lie, the slackness, baseness, and hypocrisy of our world; it shakes off the asphyxiating inertia of matter which invades even the clearest testimony of the senses; and in revealing to collectivities of men their dark power, their hidden force, it invites them to take, in the face of destiny, a superior and heroic attitude they would never have assumed without it.”
– The Theater and it’s Double, Antonin Artaud
As someone drawn to performance my whole life, being involved in the theater always seemed exciting. A breeding ground for new ideas, a way to explore the depths of myself and be as crazy as I possibly could with no judgment. It seemed pretty friggin cool. That is, till I got to that point of life where I realized I liked hanging out with the crowd who wanted to listen to loud angry music, wear ripped clothing, and drink and play guitars in the park. No one wanted to read Wilde’s The Importance of being Earnest, but everyone did want to read A Picture of Dorian Gray. By influence, I started to believe reading a novel was interesting and a great conversation piece, but reading a play was dorky and alienating. I wanted to smoke cigarettes so I sounded more like Cat Power than Judy Garland. Suddenly, no one I liked and wanted to be around, liked what I liked. And suddenly, I felt like I had to compromise a part of myself that rang so true, in order to fit into this other self that wanted to explore a range of other arts and people.
For a number of tumultuous years, I denied that I actually enjoyed activities such as abstractly exploring spaces as if I was an over-grown fir tree. I resorted only to the Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet because it had that sweet Cardigans song on it that everyone thought was cool. I listened to endless 90s grunge and death country (yes, it’s a thing) at house parties, then have a pain-staking identity crisis breakdown and sing the entire soundtrack to “The Last Five Years,” wasted in the shower after my very patient boyfriend would take me home. Then finally, after giving into my dark side, returning to the theater full-force, and throwing all my connotative ideas out the window, I finally realized, theater is pretty friggin cool, and everyone needs to stop denying it. There is so much to the art that is over-looked and dragged down by the stereotype of the “drama kid,” or visions of Elizabethan costume frills.
The transition didn’t come easy. I moved to New York City after putting away my love of performing for years and studying English lit. When I came here for acting school, I knew that I wanted to perform, but it still seemed like a chore to me to read a play. I could only name a small handful of playwrights, and hadn’t really thought of learning more up until then. Reading plays meant trying to understand old English and the Greek laws of morality, right? Even so, I had a group of very artistically rounded and intellectual friends, and I guarantee you they knew even less than me on the topic. The medium just seemed inaccessible alongside the other cultural areas I was drawn to. Though I felt like the world of theater was now surrounding me in the city where it was most present, it still felt out of reach. There somehow still seemed as though there was a wall up between theatre and the other arts, and understanding plays and the world of playwriting seemed a daunting world to crack into piece by piece. Luckily for me, I seemed to crack it, by fully delving into the harmonious detrimental nature of New York, a three-year theatre course, and meeting spirited individuals such as my Dionysian partners, who feel the same way as me about the theater. But, it shouldn’t have to take that much time and energy. I still think that this world should be much more accessible to those who exist outside of it, and the true realities of its beauty should be realized.
Once I finally realized that a play alone had the power to take me to a place in my psyche that I rarely got in touch with, my life changed. I feel as though, plays have become attached to connotations and stereotypical ideas that put them in a certain alienated category amongst other art forms. Some pretty badass individuals, known as playwrights, are creating some of the most groundbreaking works in all of the arts. These people have a vision and a longing to bring human consciousness to its most metaphysical state through their words. They have a vision of a state of mind, a feeling, a message that they long to be brought to life and witnessed. Better yet, they design their language to be presented out loud, to an audience. They inevitably begin an eternal conversation. Stripped down communication from one to another? What a concept, and a pretty cool one that we seem to forget about in the modern day.
The art of the theater and the role of the playwright, aren’t given the honour they deserve in this modern world. Masses have been driven away from theater’s most raw and exciting truth, that we exist purely to feel, observe, think and communicate. The language of a play is built upon a number of factors that make it one of the most mysterious and transitory forms still in existence. This is seemingly being lost within the increasingly vapid social state of the western world, as is the role of the playwright. Antonin Artaud describes this disillusion with cultural forms as nothing but “hunger,” as opposed to actual interest in the arts and the creation of a community or individual’s own “culture” through them. I think this hunger may have been what I was feeling for years, searching rapidly from one thing to another rather than getting in touch with myself and experience something raw and real. The language of a play allows this medium of existential communication exist for us.
The playwright has the power to strip down artistic barriers, and give humans a blank slate, bare bones, a battlefield for their deepest desires, disturbing thoughts, fears and longings that are painstakingly ignored as we go through the average day to day. Surrounded by cultural symbols, spoon-feeding us what we should be interested in, we lose touch with the certain alchemical magic that should exist between human to human. Day-to-day we often fumble around searching for a kind of magic in our lives, but are unable to fully take part in an existence governed by it due to a schooled fear we have developed through modern stereotypes. The function of theater plays a powerful role in breaking down this developing trend, and at the Dionysian, we truly hope to communicate that to a wider audience. By honouring the language and intention of the playwright, we can bring ourselves back to an incredible state of community and dig into the depths of our imaginations.
In some theatrical cultures the playwright is king; the actors, directors, designers and technicians working to serve their vision. In others, there is no playwright. Theatre today takes on many different forms, some of which don't require a playwright in the traditional sense. We like all of those forms. However, many of those forms don't lend themselves very easily to the medium of print. The Dionysian puts the playwright and their words at the center and asks the reader to let their imagination twist and turn and take their own journey.
So, my fellow patrons of the arts out there, theater is pretty friggin cool, and we would love a larger audience to acknowledge that. Plays should be read, seen, heard, honoured. Plays should be more accessible for everyone. At the Dionysian, we hope to give a platform for all forms of theatrical language, and allow for further use and artistic expansion, be it, scene-work in a class, an off-Broadway stage, or a couple friends reading to each other in a basement with some cheap beers. We like these words very much and hope you do too.
Celebrate the playwright.