First Post: Part Two
Secondly, my commencement speech for Dell’Arte International’s MFA in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre, Class of 2015…
One of the questions I’ve been asked most in the past year is what I’m doing after graduation, to which I’ve regularly answered “I don’t know.” You see, the last time I was asked that question was 2008, when I wore this same suit and walked across a slightly larger stage to receive a similarly important degree. But, back then, I had this question answered to a dime.
I was about to re-enter the Minneapolis/St. Paul audition market, to climb steadily in profile as I performed bigger and better roles on bigger and better stages. I would receive various mentions in print headlines like “30 top artists under 30.” During my days, I would work as a Communications Director or Assistant to some edgy yet well-funded theatre or non-profit, funding a ten-year career before Yale’s graduate program would accept me for an MFA in either Directing or Dramaturgy (I hadn’t made up my mind yet). I was about to move in with my girlfriend of a year and a half, completely on schedule of being married by 25 so that I had a mathematically probable chance of being alive to celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary at 75.
Spoiler alert: none of that actually happened.
For the next four years and in any number of ways, I was reset time and again along this path of success I had expected for myself, and anything I could remotely consider a victory seemed to come at the cost of another friendship pushed to its breaking point, another bridge burned.
And now, I am about to end three years at a clown school nestled in the most beautiful forests of America; the latest and strangest chapter serving as a bizarre context for all the lesser memories that came before it. And I feel great.
This segues into another question I’m asked a lot: “What have you learned at Dell’Arte?” Well.
For one, I’ve learned you can’t just start answering that question thoughtlessly, otherwise you’re liable to sound like you joined a cult.
Secondly, I’ve learned some surprisingly non-theatrical things:
I’ve learned that permission is profoundly overrated.
I’ve learned that meaningless behavior should be judged as such.
I’ve learned that compromise is death. Compromise tricks us into believing it’s the more enlightened choice, when really all it is is weak. There’s a reason building engineers say “the structure was compromised.”
I’ve learned that mystery is a thing capable of defeating you, but the unknown is just a matter of patience.
I’ve learned that if something even noses of obligation, then you’re already as good as dead, because the panther has been tracking you for the last mile.
I’ve learned that the catastrophe in question, the thorn in your brain that you’re dealing with, isn’t “the end of the world,” it’s just the end of the world as you know it, which probably wasn’t all it was cracked up to be anyway.
I’ve learned that passion doesn’t just risk ignoble behavior — it almost ensures it. But that’s the gift of this thing we call “ensemble” — a gift too few people in this world will ever know. We rage, and are forgiven, and are raged against, and forgive.
I’ve learned how rare and precious an actual conversation is. I value these people not because we agree most of the time (we don’t, and that’s not the point), but because we can talk to one another about the things that matter most.
I’ve learned that the human body can be an artistic instrument; that this equipment we come into the world with can hold a completely different vocabulary, if you let it. Inspiration and expression is just a repackaged philosophy of inhalation and exhalation. Your eyes can do more than see, they can perceive, and your intuition can replace your rationalization. This stuff has been with each of you since the day you were born, waiting.
I’ve learned that everything HR wants you to believe is wrong. Everything.
But so much of the world we live in wants HR to be right. It’s a world not of human artists but of human sparrows eager to feverishly clock slights and play victim; a world where the small, the timid, and the considerate reign, and the solution to this is not to be loud and bombastic and petulant, but it is to understand that, out there, your ability to perceive and to decide will be met with resistance, if not outright derision. Your passion will be feared, and its telltale signs of inspiration will be politely stamped out. So when you see us crying today, it’s not because we’re sad that we might never see one another again — that’s ridiculous, we’re one phone call or Skype screen away — it’s because we know the hand we’re about to be dealt. Out there, we can either hold true to the artists we’ve become and likely get branded as lunatics wherever we go, or just give up and be re-assimilated by simplicity.
We’re scared because we’re not sure we’ll make it.
If we are now evangelists, it is not for any one artist or pedagogy or aesthetic, or even for the medium of theatre. It is now to share a deeply individual gospel with the world about connection, expression, and expectation; a revelation of mystery being revealed first and foremost to the person carrying it. And the biblical allusions here are intentional — all this handwringing in our industry about who theatre is “for.” Well, here you go: it isn’t for the artist, and it isn’t for the audience. It’s for the human race; the exercising of some long-forgotten muscle or gland or synapsis that endows us as the muses of the animal kingdom, as arbiters capable of perceiving and creating tomorrow’s beauty. Of course God created Man to exalt Him. What else could?
But I’m sorry, I’ve lost sight of the questions at hand. What have I learned at Dell’Arte? I’ve learned that all things serve us — beautiful, unexpected us — so that we may serve beautiful, unexpected things. And what am I doing after graduation? Sorry, but I know better than to try to answer the question. But — and I say this as a promise, not a platitude — I will see you out there.