I just finished a Christmas time play. The play is short and lovely but not amazing. It plays on the human need for sweetness and light. As a young theatre artist living in a one theatre town I often find myself fighting against these things. Saying things like “nostalgia is just a place of ignorance or selective remembering”.
I am surrounded by people who limit all forms of art to entertainment. For me that is the bare minimum. If a piece of art regardless of the medium doesn’t provide some form of entertainment it hasn’t even begun to do its job. In my region however that is all an audience expects, to be entertained. They don’t expect or want to be moved or made to think and something really wrong has happened if they are made to feel. These for me are what art is meant to do. So I fight against farce. I fight against joy. I fight because I want for the people around me to understand that when art is at its best it can open up your world, it can change your life.
The thing about this play I just finished is it reminded me that sweetness and light and nostalgia aren’t bad. It’s ok to want to be comforted by something that doesn’t make you think. It’s ok to want to selectively remember for an hour. The play reminded me that sometimes great things can come out of work that does this. A movie comes to mind, Forest Gump.
This movie reminded people that although the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were a rough time in US history it wasn’t all bad. I think the difference between this movie and much of what the audience in my region wants is that Forest Gump doesn’t forget the bad. Sgt. Dan is still bitter and angry and broken but he isn’t the star of the movie; he isn’t our focus. The writers of the movie however don’t shove him out of the frame. They don’t say you can only look at the good by forgetting the bad. Rather the writers and director of this movie make a choice to focus on the good while allowing the bad to still exist. What a hard thing to accomplish; but by doing so they strike a beautiful middle ground. They created a movie that is happy and joyful while still being real. This gives me hope.
Hope that maybe in my work at the theatre and my work in my writing I can find this middle ground. I can stop fighting joy. Maybe if I can find the middle ground then the audiences in my region can too. Here’s hoping.