Know Your Why’s (and be willing to die for them.)

“Know your Why’s and be willing to die for them.”

This is a mantra I loudly implement while directing, and secretly apply to life. What does it mean? It means be honest with yourself regarding your objective, always. And if your objective isn’t worth it, f*ck it. Or you’re lying to yourself, which is aggressively worse. I’ve struggled with my Why’s in regards to theatre ever since I started, and as my first memory of doing anything was theatre, that’s 34 years of analyzing my Why’s, consistently questioning, dissecting and studying the most paramount anchor of my life. That’s a lot of existentialism. But my mantra is my gospel, I’ve never stopped, it has always been worth dying for.

(I’d like to think of myself as a spirted individual. Our culture can get uncomfortable with these facets- the sensitive, determined, tenacious woman. Past attempts to squash or dull my passionate fervor have had limited results. What can say.)

There’s been many reasons, still are, but the ultimate reason has and will always be is theatre’s ability to speak truth. To power, to the dismissive, to the un or misinformed, to those struggling to remember, striving to connect to themselves or others, straining to identify their identity. This can’t be devalued. And certainly not today, as we tussle and grapple for the understanding of others, ourselves, our history, our stories, our relationships, how the world churns. The sh*t that matters.

And if we aren’t endeavoring to learn more we aren’t doing our job as good humans. A symptom of the illness that is plaguing the American spirit as it stands is avoidance. Recently I’ve seen great strides, movements and truth bubbling up from the darkest aspects of our society. I’m exhausted every day from it, evidence of investment. It’s stark, brutal, naked and it burns. There’s also beauty, like the slimy fawn walking for the first time.

This is new for us.

But we aren’t all brave. We aren’t all ready, or open to the enormity of truth. A theatre provides a safe space to consume substance. It’s the spoonful of sugar.

But truth has become so unrecognizable that it can sometimes alienate us, and that can be scary. It takes some pluck to not only project it, but to genuinely absorb it- and this is a necessity. Theatre is therapy to not only the audience member, but the artist.

Recently popular tastes have been quite different- the theatre as a vacation. A place to press pause, to remark on glittery costumes and familiar tunes from simpler times. There’s no medicine anymore. (Let it be noted that I’m not at all an advocate of propaganda theatre, my preferred approach is reflecting back the subjectiveness of reality, I strive for the inherit theatrical tools of manipulation to stay subtle or absent.) There is a place for vacation theatre, but it’s not the sustainable subspecies- as evidenced by the Why's of theatre being the longest running occupation in human history. It didn’t start off as spectacle, it was the first newspaper: honest, funny, informative, topical and accessible.

The theatre should be a place to go to remember, not to forget.

It’s an education because it’s not accessing parts of your brain used simply for overwriting past facts by memorization, how we’ve been programmed to download information, feebly and unsuccessfully. It taps into the part of your brain that holds on to memories of your mother rocking you to sleep, your first kiss, your complicated relationship with your father. This is how humans are supposed to learn, we feel.

Truth that’s not to be endured, but enjoyed, absorbed and applied to life. There’s potential power there, and anything otherwise I feel is a missed opportunity. An art house without the art is just a house.

My goal with this statement is to remind those of the potent value and latent influence of what we are doing as a company. To remind you of your hunger to remember, to feel truth. When I speak to our audience members I can palpably sense an almost inability to articulate their experience. How to you voice being moved? How do you pronounce the echoes of the emotional earworm that was, with surgical precision, implanted during a thoughtfully produced piece of great art? How to you quantify its worth when it will be with you forever?

Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend, speak and advocate for your Why, but this has been my attempt. What's your Why?

How did Shakespeare save a dying town?

In 1950, the town of Stratford Ontario was dying. The main industry was repairing steam locomotives, a technology that was all but dead. When 30-year-old local journalist Tom Patterson pitched to the local town council producing Shakespeare plays as a way of saving Stratford they laughed, lookin’ at him like he had lobster’s crawling out of his ears.

Didn’t stop him. His next pitch was the tent- and that summer Stratford’s Shakespeare in the park was all the rage. A novel rage, and yet the potential rageyness was not lost upon the town council the second year around. They granted Patterson $125 to explore it further.

Where did his actors come from? He followed a familiar mantra, if you build(pitch) it, they will come. And they did. And talent begets talent, networks are small, opportunities inconsistent, soon the Stratford Festival caught the attention of famed British director Tyrone Gurthrie.

In 1953 the tent got bigger. A circus tent was shipped in from Chicago. 

Innovative Dir. Guthrie wanted to experiment with his “new” concept of a thrust stage. Balked at by traditionalists and uncommon amongst dozens of Canadian prosceniums’, though fairly prominent in Shakespeare’s time. 

In 1954 the Stratford Festival broke ground on a new amphitheater- funds took a hit, and the festival almost faltered. Miraculously, just-in-time cash was provided by the Governor-General, and private business. Four years made the town of Stratford treasure their beloved Shakespeare festival. 

Good thing, too, because that summer the good people of Stratford were able to host Sir Alec Guinness onstage as Richard III. 

And that, as they say, is that. Stratford became, and remains, quite revitalized. 

Now I’d be remiss to assert parallels between Upper Peninsula Shakespeare Festival and the Stratford Festival, humbleness and reality prevents me. And Marquette is far from dying.

Marquette creatives, however, are floating thick in an abeyant nebula of amniotic fluid, boundless, yet desiring Marquette walls- searching for flocks, nests, space to scream safely- and most prominently a supportive, sustainable, unquenchable thirst for their offerings. 

The potential is blinding at times. For some reason, our little town of Marquette is more rich with creative talent than so many other communities I’ve been apart of. Our modest metropolitan is formative, mapped, a hub. So many brilliant minds have built it, and not only have they came… they were here all along. 
Now comes the organizing, the assessing, the mobilizing. The space to scream safely, and the desire to support and connect with it. It’s work, it’s hope and it’s a big tent to pitch.

But hey. They laughed at Patterson, too.