Some months back one of our local theater groups sponsored a 10-minute play contest. I'd only ever written one play, and that was years ago, but I thought -- well, this could be fun! -- and so I created what I thought at the time was an amusing mini-masterpiece and submitted it.
In all, 54 plays were submitted, and about two weeks ago the two winners were announced, along with the 14 plays in total that would be performed. I was saddened, of course, to learn that my play was not one of the chosen ones, but, as part of the stable of local actors I would at least have the fun of acting in one of the chosen plays.
All of which is a lead-in to say that last night saw the gathering of playwrights,directors, and actors in preparation for the coming readings, which will happen the weekend of August 18. I was excited, but still a little skeptical; what would these plays be like? (Translate: what could possibly be better than mine?)
After all the introductions and applause and directions, the actors met with their directors and playwrights to discuss the upcoming performance and schedule rehearsals (these will just be readings, with scripts in hand, so there doesn't need to be a lot of preparation prior to performance). And our group was lucky; we had time for a first read-through of our play.
I had skimmed through it quickly at the beginning of the evening, so I knew pretty much what it involved. But after actually acting through it, I was just blown away. How brave the playwright had been! In the space of ten minutes he had managed to address the themes I hold most dear (compassion, separation, assumptions, hope... and more) with a timely subject and two almost irresistible characters. I felt so touched and honored by the role I was to play -- and, at the same time, I found I was almost embarrassingly conscious of how shallow my own play seemed in comparison.
And so, this morning, when I read the following quote from Alan Jones in Soul Making, it resonated deeply:
"We need to be able to see, at one and the same time, the glory to which we are called and the distance we have fallen from that glory. It is the task of the artist to help us develop that double vision. The greatest of them are able to help us see the glory in life without sentimentalizing or trivializing it. They also enable us to see the suffering and horror of life without pushing us into despair."
This was the gift our author, George Shannon, brought to the play: a willingness to bare his soul in a way that both exposed us to the sadness of life and brought us hope. And, yes, I sometimes do that here. But participating in George's play helped me better understand the glory to which I am called, and the distance I have fallen. If I really want to produce fine work, I need to follow George's example and dance a lot closer to the core. Pat answers and trivialities will not touch into the heart of the work we are all about for our time on the planet.
It was a humbling and inspiring moment, and I'm looking forward to exploring my character further: with luck, I may be able to do justice to the breadth of her emotions and experience.
PS: About this picture: it was taken in a nursing home, many years ago; I suspect this sweet, sweet man has long since passed away. But there is something in his face that reminds me of the other character in George's play and so I post it here. It also helps me understand that even when my writing -- so often dominated by my left brain, which tends to be reluctant to step into the abyss -- dances on the surface, my camera -- always a pretty direct link to my right brain -- has a way of conveying the deeper impact of existence, the glory, and the falling. I confess I find that reassuring.