If suddenly faced with the knowledge of your imminent death, how would your choices, your sacrifices, time spent with family or at work, goals accomplished, moral character, how would all these stack up? Placed on the scales, being weighed and measured, would you be found wanting? And I don’t mean in another’s eyes, or God’s eyes, I mean in your own eyes. In the final evaluation, self-evaluation, how will you judge yourself?
We started rehearsal this week for The Mountaintop by Katori Hall, a play that takes place on April 3, 1968, the last night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. Without wanting to give too much of the play’s plot away, through some mysterious twists and turns and a little bit of theatrical magic, Dr. King has to answer those questions I posed at the beginning of this blog. Or at the very least, he has to ask those questions.
One of the best things about working in theatre, whether it is as an actor or in my current capacity as director, is when you engage with the material at hand, you are forced to look at it through your own eyes, your own experiences. This type of engagement, if done deeply with an open heart, can yield beautiful and terrifying results. And ultimately, those results, if translated to an audience with skill, craftsmanship, feeling, and tonal and stylistic appropriateness will create the ability for that audience to also gaze deeply into themselves and accompany the characters on their beautiful and terrifying journey.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was 39 years old when he died. I am 39 years old.
Have I stood up as tall as I can and said as loud as I can the things most important to me? Have I been willing to set aside my fears and look out into the world and see the injustices and put myself in the fight to alleviate them? Are the sacrifices I have made to pursue this career, a career that I find truly important, are those sacrifices worth it? The time away from my wife? The distance between my friends, my parents, my siblings? Have I been militantly nonviolent and practiced radical fierce love? How much hurt and pain have I caused? Have I atoned for those things?
These questions may sound overly dramatic, or indulgent, but in the context of being a theatre artist working on this play, that couldn’t be further from the truth. And in fact, if I am going to stand as tall as I can and say what I believe as loudly as I can without fear of judgment from others, everyone should be asking themselves these questions. Self-evaluation is useful and healthy and makes for a better world, and when one chooses to judge oneself as opposed to another, the freedom accompanying that choice will shock you to your core…but I digress.
As I said, addressing these questions with an open heart and mind can be a rewarding but terrifying adventure. We are only a few days into this process, but thus far these actors are bringing all of themselves to the challenge. It is quite amazing to watch an actor be brave enough to open themselves to their character, to try that character’s circumstances and needs and wants and fears on like a suit. And then that suit begins to fit better and better and that character really comes to life right in front of you. Between the two of them, myself, the design team, crew and staff of Gulfshore Playhouse, I have no doubt that we will present something for our audience that will make them reflect upon their own life, their own journey towards the mountaintop. And if we are all really lucky, the combination of the bravery of the actors to tackle those questions with the audiences’ willingness to be reflective will create that elusive and mercurial thing that happens in a theatre sometimes…cathartic inspiration.