Company member Carl Aitya Swanson reflects and finds joy. Now we've got our sites set on Night of New Works at the Bryant Lake Bowl. Tickets on sale now!
You’ve probably seen that image, or some permutation of it, floating around the web. I know that it’s popped up in my Facebook feed often enough over the last few months for it to be in my mind a lot throughout the process of making Care Enough. The show is closed now, which is to say that the performers are no longer muscling out their delicate and rough magic in the confines of the Nimbus Theatre, which was such a good home to us. But just because the show is closed, doesn’t mean that Care Enough is over because the conversations around it still continue.
I want to take a moment to thank everyone who spoke to me and to the company after the show, posted on Facebook, tweeted, and sent e-mails, as well as to the critics who came out and wrote about it – even those who didn’t find the answers or values they were seeking in the work. I’ll readily admit that as a first-time full-length playwright, there was a lot of risk involved, especially in trying to tease out almost a decade worth of personal and political frustrations into a semblance of an emotional and intellectual structure. I’ll also say that Care Enough wasn’t written to provide answers to the questions of where we are now. Every time in the writing and rehearsal process we tried to put in an answer to those questions, it felt like a lie of false certainty. I didn’t want to lie to you. The poet Sarah Kay had a resonant response to a question of process on Krista Tippett’s On Being program, which I heard in the middle of Care Enough rehearsals whilst driving through the rain around Aitken, MN;
“I write a poem when there's something I cannot navigate without poetry. And in doing so, when I put that poem out into the world, what I'm saying is, hey, look at me trying to figure this thing out, which I haven't yet, but this is me trying. If you're trying to figure this out too, maybe this can help you or maybe you can help me. And then maybe together we can make something make more sense than it does right now. I think that that's what it means to be human is to volunteer your experience in an effort to say, hey, this is what I've got. What do you have over there? Can we make something work here?”
That’s it in a nutshell, what Keats called the “Negative Capability” of art - to hold uncertainties and conflict together without seeking easy resolution, expanded to a collaborative new era.*
When people came up after the show and told me how they felt it reflected some aspect of their life and uncertainty, it was so wonderful to hear. I am uncertain; you are too. Let’s talk about that. The power of witness is to be seen and acknowledged, and for many whom I spoke to, the play had a power to help them see something of themselves that was difficult to get at, even if they weren’t sure of all of the details. There were lots of sweet ironies, I felt, in people saying they didn’t “get it” and then telling me what they felt, piecing together their own narratives and making their own meanings from the work. That’s getting it. As our fabulous leading lady Anna Carol put it to a group of high-school student in an impromptu Q&A after the show, “Life doesn’t have a button,** so we didn’t put one in there.” That didn’t stop people from having their own interpretations, which was part of the point of making a show about the unresolved state of being.
IMAGE NOT AVAILABLE: A word cloud of the top 75 words in the “Describe the show in one sentence” part of our audience survey.
It seems unfair, in a way, that we asked for a one sentence description of how people experienced Care Enough in our post-show survey. It almost felt too immediate. I know that it will take me some time to process the experience fully, and that others have told me that they want to talk later. I look forward to those conversations and hope that they’ll happen. I feel like from the initial conversations I’ve learned something about the limits of that Negative Capability - how far an audience will go with you and how far some might not want to go. After the show my grandmother told me that she was very proud and then suggested that maybe I should write a musical comedy next. She also promised me an e-mail with more of her thoughts. I look forward to that, and, who knows, I might take her up on her suggestion. With Savage Umbrella, we have the chance to do many things together.
I also want to, as I have tried to do in all the conversations I’ve had throughout the run, express my gratitude to the actors and designers who made Care Enough what it was in front of audiences. I was amazed throughout the rehearsal process and the run how the actors’ discovery of inflection, the underscoring of lights, and the punctuation of sound added new dimensions to the words I had written, added new depths and emotions. I couldn’t have done anything without them. That’s why, despite my love of music and art (and having them as an initial inspiration much of the time), I work in theater most often – it is a human interaction that grows through time, a conversation. It’s easier to deal with difficulty, with distilling down anger and fear and frustrations, when you have beautiful, caring and open people to do it with.
Right about the time that we were wrapping the show on Saturday night and starting to party, a couple miles away in front of the Walker Art Center, 10,000 people were packed in to watch The Hold Steady finish up their set at Rock the Garden. It’s a band I love, and one of the things that I love most about it was frontman Craig Finn’s ending to the set on Saturday night. It went like this - “Well, you know, it can be hard to explain, but I’m just going to come out and say it. There is so much joy in what we do up here. I want to thank you all for being here tonight to share that joy with us.”
And that’s the truth of it, even in difficulty there is joy in what we do, which is why we care enough to keep on. We always want to hear from you, and if you didn’t like what you saw this time, tell us, and stick around. It’s like the joke about Minnesota weather - we’re always changing. Up next we have a Night of New Works with three short pieces and works-in-progress. There will be snippets of an opera, puppets, a play about video games, and dance, and, as always, all of us figuring it out together.
*Or, to quote Saint Augustine of Hippo from 1600 years ago, “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.”
**”Button” in this sense doesn’t refer to a bright red fix-it button like in those Staples commercials, but as a piece of theatrical nomenclature for a definitive punchline, or closing number to wrap it all up. Which, actually, is about the same thing. And we don’t have it.