from Sarah Ruhl
All over the world, we don’t have the physical theater right now.
What we do have is a renewed sense of collective mission and purpose to take care of our theater community in any way that we can.
A large cohort of theater makers, under the umbrella of the Lillys, formed 3Views originally as a way to help address the persistent problem in the American theater of a lack of diversity and multiplicity in theater criticism. We longed for diversity of gender, race, age, geography, sexuality, as well as a multiplicity of genre, opinion, approach, and aesthetic when exploring a theater production. We longed for the gate-keepers to be as diverse as the people making the art. The initial idea was to have three different voices speak about one production, reflecting multiple perspectives on one piece of art. We had been carefully preparing a model to do just that, when the pandemic reared its head. So we decided to pivot, to swerve, to do what we could in a service capacity until the theaters reopen, when we will either fold 3Views or pass it to the next generation.
In the meantime, we are shining light on three cancelled productions a week.
We hope that the digital archiving of excerpts and design elements serves to:
- make theaters aware of plays with foreshortened lives that they can produce as soon as we can gather again
- create a record of an unprecedented time—a tapestry of what the American theater looked like in this moment.
- give readers and play lovers the delight of reading excerpts of these plays on the page: In the words of Midsummer Night’s dream: Is there no play, To ease the anguish of a torturing hour? Call Philostrate.
Call Philostrate! Where the hell is Philostrate now? He’s probably self-isolating and watching Tiger King on Netflix.
We have also gathered voices in the theater to speak to the current moment.
We asked for reflections, elegies, secular prayers, meditations, rants. From Julia Cho’s urgent prayer, to John Lahr’s meditation on a historical plague pit near his house in London, to C.A. Johnson’s reflection on a canceled play, we hope these pieces give you sustenance.
Wallace Stevens wrote in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,
“I was of three minds/Like a tree/In which there are three blackbirds,”
so to honor that kind of fractal multiplicity, we are posting 13 reflections of the moment. All of this food for thought we offer to readers freely, and if you are so inclined to make a donation, we will use the funds to pay writers and for The Lillys Direct Covid Grants, which are helping individual theater artists survive during this time.
From another Stevens poem,
“Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.”
I keep meditating on the line: “In which being there together is enough.” Some of us are isolated in complete isolation, in which only being must be made to be enough. Some of us are isolated in smaller groups, in which we must content ourselves with a more intimate way of being together. From another poet who gives me solace right now, Jericho Brown: “I begin with love, hoping to end there.” But none of us, across the world, are gathering in those big physical places, like the theater, with that particular kind of being together.
So we are offering this virtual space as a placeholder until we can dwell together in the evening air again.
We have a collective grief around the loss of gathering and making together. We also have the isolation of our audiences to consider, and the grief and panic around the staggering loss of livelihoods. There is the very concrete grief around losing people beloved to us. And we would normally do what is natural to do in shared grief—gather.
And since a handful of us wrote prayers for this moment, I am offering my own, an ongoing list of reasons to keep writing that I’ve been working on, and that I hope you’ll add to:
Write for God. The cave. The envelope.
Write for your mother. Your father.
(Whether they are alive or dead.)
Write for the homebound.
Write for the weary nurse.
Write for your friend who is sick.
Write for the future. Write for the past. Write for the present, but sideways.
Write for the theater-going politicians and judges. That is to say, write for Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Write for the ancient ones who go to the theater and immediately slip into a deep sleep.
Write for the critics who haven’t even been born.
Write for the child who saw cruelty.
Write for those dispossessed of language.
Write for the actors who paint houses so they can still be in plays.
Write for the actors who can’t be in plays right now, who are waiting for the theaters to reopen.
Write for your daughter. Write for your son.
If they don’t exist write for the dream of them.
Write for your uncle to weep, your aunt to laugh.
Your babysitter to cover her face with recognition.
Write for the accountants whose eyes are too tired at night for numbers.
for the farmers who grow your corn.
Write for all the retired librarians like Pat Watkins from Madison Wisconsin who once wrote you a letter about your play.
Write for your teachers. Write for every single hour they left off writing their own sentences so that they could read yours.
Write to thank the books you love.
Write for the church you walked past with a sign that read:THEATER AT SACRAMENTAnd you misread it as: THEATER AS SACRAMENT.
Write for yourself.
Write for God. The cave. And the envelope.
And when you are not writing for the inward, for the cave, for the envelope: