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Friday, March 20, 2009

hearing the call

Every season has its themes. Whether because of what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in the lives of the people here, or whether that theme is something I found emerging from our rehearsals, each season has its meanings. Since this is a launch party for the 2008/09 season, I’ve been pondering its underlying themes.. what connects Star Wars, Twelfth Night, the spring Festival of new Plays and our first Citywide Street Festival of Young Artists and Leaders, me, you, these young artists here, our city, our country.. the mundane answer might be, well, Ryan you, uh, chose the plays and cast the company.. but, in all honesty, my choices are not truly my own, they are more hunches, gut instincts… sometimes later, if I’m lucky, I’ll be visited with a little insight that shows me WHY those choices seemed right. In fact, the more I make art, the more I’m convinced that the creative process is not about being in charge, but about doing your best to listen and follow. Even when your brain keeps trying to point out that it doesn’t appear to make sense.

And so, in sync with the idea of listening and following, I want to talk about ‘calling.’ A nice big romantic notion for a November night. What is ‘calling’? What does it mean to be called to something? Here’s a definition for you to consider: Calling is, perhaps, how we are invited to become more of who we truly are. Each of us is singular, so each of us has the opportunity to live a singular life, perhaps similar in shape, but, in the actual details, unlike anyone else’s. A life which uses all of us - our talents, skills, and idiosyncracies. And I believe that happiness rests on whether or not we are willing to follow that call. That happiness depends on us taking steps to become all that we are, in lives that make it possible for each particular flower to blossom in its own necessary and individual way.

This year, Downtown Art will graduate a great number of amazing young artists from the company. I say it now, but I don’t want to think about it too much because it’s too early in the season to let myself get sad. This year, I get an extra hit of the separation experience, because my own daughter is one of those soon-to-be graduates. At the theater and at home, there are daily reminders of the search going on as these people, who are very very dear to me, wrestle with decisions about where to go, what to aim for, what should be next? .. they are very practical, of course, but they are also on the hunt for something else.. because it turns out that more than college brochures and overnight tours, SATs and the odds of acceptance.. there’s a deep current running beneath all the wordly concerns that asks what excites me, what do I want, what calls to me? And they know that this is the real question they must try to answer.

Star Wars is the most traditional of all fairy tales wrapped up in a space age suit. A young hero who tragically loses his family has a mission dumped on him: he must rescue a princess, learn how to wield a magical weapon, defeat a dragon, find his inner strength, and save the universe. After years working on his uncle’s farm, obsessed with flying his landspeeder and dreaming of doing great deeds, he is called.

In Twelfth Night, Viola loses her beloved twin brother, the only family she has left, in a terrible shipwreck.. some instinct tells her to disguise herself, to, in fact, become her twin brother, and start a new life in this strange land. There, she finds her future… as do many of the other characters of 12th Night.. and calling, for all of them, announces itself as love. Powerful love that none of them can fight – and which may or may not lead them to the right mate, but certainly leads them to their own newmade future.

That’s one thing I really like about calling. It shows up as love. Love for a person, for a place, for a practice.. it beckons us to step towards something. It might be a light whimsical kind of ‘oh.. that would be fun’ feeling, or a heartwrenching devastating crush like the one Orsino develops on Olivia. Calling does not promise happy endings.. it only promises that if we have the courage to follow, we will become more of ourselves, we will enter more deeply into our own individual lives, and that, if answered, the chances are greater that our hearts will be more peaceful and our lives more satisfying. Which are, if you ask me, the necessary conditions for happiness. A peaceful heart and a satisfying life.

So I will take a big breath and declare: the theme of this season is calling. I admit to a big hope that everyone here tonight feels at least a little bit called to this theater, to the community it helps create. Downtown Art is a small piece of a very big city, but I think this is an extraordinary place. This is a place to pin your heart to. This is a highly imaginative, creative theater company made up, not of 30 or 20something actors, but of teens whose work is vivid, hopeful, disciplined, and laced with joy. This is local, handcrafted art. Local and handcrafted is not the most direct way towards wealth and stature, but I am convinced it is the surest road to quality. To community. To a true expression of the human spirit .

Everyone here has already taken steps to keep this place going and it is deeply appreciated. Tonight I’d like to beckon you to take one step closer to the center of this place. I’m asking you to consider sharing in the task of keeping this small, handcrafted, outrageously imaginative, exuberant and lovely human endeavor well.

During the difficult times ahead, I am hoping that even as New Yorkers will likely have to be hardminded and pragmatic about many aspects of our economic lives, that we won’t ignore our more tender selves, and that we will continue to in our willingness to be called towards whatever mysterious music enchants our ear.

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