The thing that has been on my mind throughout the rehearsal process and tech of VENUS has been how truly amazing the art of live theatre is, and how grateful I am to be able to work in it.
Why? Well, among many other reasons, such as working with passionate, creative, talented people on works of art that span history thorugh the ages, one of the biggest reasons is: we have to use our imaginations!
I can remember telling my mother as a child that I didn’t think I had an imagination. I can’t imagine (haha) why I might have believed that or ever said that, but thank goodness it didn’t turn out to be true!
In world that increasingly wants to SHOW US exactly what it is, whether through live streaming, 3D imagery, or any variety of websites providing “instant gratification” I wonder if we are losing the ability to imagine. Even our movies now have the ability to bring ever-increasing amounts of fantasy to the screen. What we are left with is what we are spoon fed as opposed to reaching in and drawing out the things that currently reside in the cracks and crevices of our brain, our soul and our mind…which in some cases is so, so, so much more.
Where can we still plumb the depths of our own creativity? In a theatre. It’s been that way for a long long time. Think of the prologue from Shakespeare’s HENRY V where he asked the audience to imagine armies and monarchies filling the stage:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass:
And we are still doing this today. The play VENUS IN FUR, by David Ives, is actually a “play within a play”…a director is auditioning an actress for a role in a play he adapted from the source material “Venus in Furs” by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The whole play takes place, therefore, on one of the grungiest, non-descript audition rooms we could create. I’ve spent a lot of time in rooms like those. This one happens to sport a huge pipe in the middle of it from the days when the building was a factory, and is filled with props and other theatre-making items left behind by other renters. And somehow, with nothing more than a folding table, and a ratty prop divan, we are able to bring the 1870 story to life.
Granted, we have electrical lighting, which wasn’t always the case…and certainly that helps support putting our imaginations to work. But that’s about it. There is a scene that they are reading, early on in the audition (when they are both holding their script pages and wearing clothes and shoes that aren’t really anything like 1870) that takes place in a garden, near a fountain. I have quite firmly convinced myself that the pipe in the middle of the room is a tree, and the divan, a park bench surrounded by lush greenery and pastoral music, as the character of Kushemski woos the character of Dunayev.
In yet another scene, they are doing an improvisation about the moment VENUS magically appears, and as Vanda sets the stage, she turns on one overhead light to represent “moonlight” stating that it’s October 22, 1870 at 2:02am, she narrates what’s happening as she turns on the desk lamp and calls it a fireplace and places herself on the divan wrapped in “fur” which is nothing more than an afghan her grandmother probably knitted. And yet: we buy into it. Hook, line and sinker. We can feel the cold, we can hear the wind, and the “howl of a lovesick cat” outside…we are transported to this world.
And I’ve now realized that when someone asks me why I love working in the theatre, my answer is going to be: the willing suspension of disbelief. This is a term we learn early on in our “theatre studies” and I have always gotten it in theory of course, but I have never viscerally understood the importance of the phrase…it is what brings us back to our innocence, allows us to trust, and touch our child-like nature…the ones that would draw a picture with our tongue sticking out and attach it to the fridge with a magnet. Something inside of us yearns for creativity, finds meaning in story, and loves using our imagination. And this is what ultimately connects us all to the divinity inside each and every one of us. Amen to that.