Saturday, November 19, 2016

Why Blackbird? Why Now?

Is this story what we need right now? And will anyone come and see it?

Let me be honest: the first question is one that we, as a cast, and particularly I, as a director, have struggled with over the last two weeks.

The election of Donald Trump came as a shock to me, to many of us. Partly, of course, due to the fact that he was consistently behind in polling. It was unexpected. But also because of what it said about our country. Donald Trump's message relied a great deal on fear, on division, and on prejudice. He mocked the disabled, he demeaned women, and he promised to register Muslims. And since his election, we've seen a great increase in incidents of racist aggression (which it seems the media has decided are not racist, but "racially charged"). And this is my point: these feelings - this positive response to Trump's bullying behavior when it's targeted against the weak and the other, this is a symptom of pain. As Yoda said, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side. This election is the result of so much fear and anger. Fear of the future, fear of change, fear of immigrants and gays and people of color, and a deep frustration about feeling left behind, and left out. It is behavior that evidences an underlying pain in our society.

And that left me, left US, wondering why this play? And why now? Because this play does have a beauty to it, but it is a dark and terrible beauty. It is not going to lift people up and celebrate the spirit of America like Hamilton or provide a message of civic virtue like 12 Angry Men. It is not, I will be honest, an uplifting play. It is a play where, as Jeff Daniels said in an interview, "We hold hands and run together into the wall."

In the week after the election, we had a meeting to discuss this. We met to share our fears, to discuss our plans, and to consider our alternatives. We needed to know that if this was the journey we wanted to take, if we wanted you to take it with us, it had to be important - now. Because it is a great story, it's very much an "actor's play." Great characters, excellent dialogue, high stakes - an absolute gut punch of a show. But what does it mean more than that?

This is my answer. First, it certainly is relevant. It is a story where you want the woman, you want SO MUCH, for her to win, and (I hope this isn't giving away too much) she does not. And it's devastating. And as Katie pointed out to me, sometimes ... sometimes he gets away with it. It's a story that echos, perhaps even mirrors some of the emotional journey we (well, the majority of the audience for this play anyway) have been on. It's not a pretty journey, but there may be some catharsis there. Second, in our meeting Katie passionately pointed out that this is the sort of story, and Una is the sort of character, that simply does not get heard from. Granted the script is written by a man, but Katie felt strongly that Una's voice, and Una's journey, fraught as it is, deserved to be heard. And finally, we all felt that this would be a great show. That art is and can be uplifting even if it's about the darkest parts of people's lives. And that, hell, if we cancel our show because of Trump's election we're letting them win. Donald Trump is demanding an apology from the cast of Hamilton today, artists are being told to sit down and shut up and just be entertainment. That's not what we do.

Will anyone come and see it? That I don't know. Our Kickstarter (donate here!) is off to the slowesst start we've ever had. The show will be good. GOOD. We have a great cast and crew. I have a very high level of confidence that our preparation will pay off in an astounding way in terms of performance. But will people see it? In this terrible new world, will people be willing to watch art about the dark places, or will we only seek comfort? Will we seek out distraction and entertainment? I certainly wouldn't fault anyone for doing so. But I hope they are out there. And I hope they come. I hope people see value and purpose in what we are doing. I do.

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