Happy August! Company is in full swing, and we all get a little rest from producing during its long run. I wanted to share some thoughts with you that arose from my first newsletter and many of your responses and questions.
The quality that most distinguishes humans is our capacity for change. It is built into our DNA. We know instinctively that we can grow from within. We can enlarge our capacities, whether it is the amount of weight we can lift, difficult concepts we can grasp, or a deeper level of emotional understanding we can attain. Some might argue that the ability to transform is the finest human trait, without which there would be little possibility of hope.
We go to the gym to build biceps, to physics class to grasp quantum mechanics. And we go to the theatre to deepen our levels of emotional understanding. For me, the measure of a play’s success is whether it makes us feel changed, transformed. That’s why I call our theater the Empathy Gym. Because practice makes us better.
I talked in my first newsletter about how the capacity to generate empathy is one of the two primary benchmarks that guide my choices of plays. So, I thought this month, I would go through the plays in our 2015/16 Mainstage season to show how each provides a unique opportunity to grow our empathy muscles.
DOGFIGHT, although a musical, is a tough story about some Marine recruits who engage in a sordid game to see who can date the most unattractive girl. An abhorrent Marine tradition that goes back generations, it serves as a part of the recruits’ training—how to shut off their capacity for empathy as they are being dehumanized and prepared to kill. But as events unfold, we watch as the culture of indoctrination fails to germinate in of one of the recruits and he and we are forced to wrestle with a new and terrifying capacity for empathy.
STAGE KISS leads us deep into the complicated nuances of the human heart and our helplessness in the face of desire. Why are we not simpler? Why is the grass always greener? Why do we yearn for what we know will hurt us? Why do our emotions master us? We’ve all struggled with these unanswerable questions. And in STAGE KISS we get to see and feel this struggle from both sides: a wife who cannot control her yearning to wander and a husband who will do anything to get her back. Now there’s a work-out!
THE NETHER takes us into a future where technology has obscured our sense of morality. How has the internet already corrupted our sense of right and wrong? Is it a crime to commit acts in a virtual reality that would be heinous crimes in the real world? Does virtual violence corrupt our real world values? THE NETHER drops us into the mind of the virtual provocateur and the cop sent to stop him. Both argue passionately and persuasively for our empathy
In COLOSSAL, our preconceptions about athletes run headlong into our attitudes about dancers. As a young man trapped between the two worlds struggles with his complicated identity, we feel with him, his friends, coaches and parents. We become the Dad, the friend, and in a masterful piece of writing, two different actors playing two facets of our protagonist vie for our compassion. Whew!
RED VELVET takes us into the world of racism, but from a POV few of us could imagine. Set in London, 1833, emancipation is in the air, and for the first time, a black actor prepares to play the part of Othello. Our magic carpet takes us under his skin so we feel what he must feel, what his co-actors must face in themselves, and how the audience must wrestle with their prejudices. Open heart empathy surgery!
CITY OF ANGELS – An idealistic young novelist, bent on changing the world, stumbles into Sodom and Gomorrah. Or the American version: Hollywood, where fame is the golden carrot for which generations of artists have chucked their values out the window. How will our hero navigate this moral minefield? We ride along on his coattails, we feel the allure, the repulsion, the desire, the ambition, the greed. Oh how complex we mortals be, how delicate, how clueless.
See you all at the theatre. Please feel free to share your responses. Be sure to let me know if you’ve worked up a sweat in our empathy gym. For more info on the season, click here.
All the best,