You Know How This Performance Is Going To End, Right?
‘Our Town’ was the reminder I needed to start appreciating my ordinary life.
So… of course there’s that saying:
“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
Although it’s a cliché, perhaps we should take a moment to reflect on it. I wake up every morning, eat breakfast and drink my iced latte, wash the clothes and dishes, write a poem, teach weekly piano lessons to my three students, and (occasionally) grab a meal with friends. These all are just normal activities that I do almost every day, why would I give them a second thought?
Life Upon the Stage
Here’s where Our Town comes in. In this three-act play by Thornton Wilder, the Stage Manager (yes, that’s a character) acts as a sort-of narrator/director who tells the story of two neighboring families and the townspeople who live in a fictional village called Grover’s Corner, located in New Hampshire. Published in 1938, the play takes place during the early 1900s.
One thing that’s notable about this play is that the Stage Manager manipulates the whole act onstage—the play deliberately breaks down a fourth wall, and it does not pretend to be “real.” Instead, the Stage Manager controls the progression of the play and can interact with both the audience and the actors.
(I don’t know if any of that made sense, but if you read or watch the play then you’ll get what I mean.)
Wilder makes it clear that the story of these townspeople’s lives is very much fictional and just a stage play, presented to us by the Stage Manager.
Maybe it’s a metaphor—our world is the stage, and we are just characters in a play which we call life.
Because we all know how the story begins, just as we all know how it ends: death.
It’s All So Ordinary
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Our Town is split into three acts. The first act is about the daily lives and routines of the townspeople; the second act focuses on the love and marriage of two neighbors, Emily Webb and George Gibbs, as well as the worries and fears that came along with it. The third act, of course, is about death.
I don’t want to give away any plot points if you haven’t read or watched it yet (which I highly recommend that you do), but I think I’ve made it pretty clear that death is a prominent theme here.
You are going to die. I am going to die. We are all going to die someday. Those are facts. Not surprising, yeah?
The people of Grover’s Corner are all just regular American folks in the early 1900s, nothing too significant about them. And that’s the point. Because, in some ways, every one of us are small and ordinary, compared to the grand scheme of the universe.
Yet, it’s often the most ordinary of things—which many of us tend to overlook or disregard—that are so special.
We go through our daily routines, interact with those around us (family, friends, classmates etc.), visit the places we always go to… When was the last time we took a second to appreciate these day-to-day moments?
I mean, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Right?
Most of us don’t know when we will die. We don’t know for sure what will happen next in our own “play” of life. The unknown is what can lead many to forget that anything can change—and end—at any moment.
During the third act of Our Town, the dead speak to one another at a cemetery where their bodies were buried. It’s only at the end of the play, after they have passed away, do they realize how precious those times were—the times when they were still a child and would eat meals with their parents, or when the milkman came to deliver fresh bottles every morning. In retrospect, even the fears and stresses endured seem so trivial.
Only the dead (and I guess, in this case, the Stage Manager too) would know how the performance ends—and only then do the living seem so ignorant about life.
Ignorance is bliss?
Perhaps ignorance can be bliss, but Our Town reminds us to not let that ignorance blind us from the fact that nothing lasts forever.
Next time I’m drinking my cup of morning coffee, you’ll sure know that I’ll be savoring every bitter—yet luscious—sip of it.
Hello there! I’m A.X. — a theatre student who is sharing her thoughts about the plays she’s reading in theatre stuff. Interested in more? Here’s what I had to say about The Zoo Story:
We Are All Animals Living in the Zoo We Call “Society”
The conflicted nature of humans and society, presented in ‘The Zoo Story’ by Edward Albee.