Lanford Wilson: Surrounded By Angels

Via Telephone

I have come to despise the word curate. Nothing in the world or my life would have prepared me for this particular hatred: I don't think I've spent more than five minutes of my life thinking of the word or its meanings, but lately I am surrounded by evidence that, rather than caring about theatre or literature, we are surrounded by people who wish to curate what has happened before, to which they attach themselves with ferocity, gaining a name, a meaning to get up in the morning, and a fragile perch in the arts.

I do not wish to be curated, nor do I think Tennessee would like it much either.

We would like to be remembered and read and performed, but we would also like to think--we'd like to hope--that our work and that of others is leading writers and directors and actors and designers and passionate audiences to seek out pockets of activity to create their own work. How about they curate their own work? Or that of their peers?

Tennessee Williams and his work came to my attention in those awkward, painful years when I realized that I might want to write, and his plays felt to me like a letter from an older, wiser friend. Tennessee's plays were not merely plays, they weren't merely literature: They were like road maps to living and writing and surviving. Tennessee says that my plays are lapidary; that he can feel and appreciate the placement of words and characters as if they were bricks. Well, I felt that way, and stronger, about his work. I felt his words were both gilded and winged, and they were priceless and they could go anywhere.

Ironically, I am now at a place in my life that is like the point when you met Tennessee: I can't imagine that I can write again. I can't imagine that I will write well or live well or understand things clearly enough to try to rescue some people who are trapped in a situation or a place for which they have no understanding.

Tennessee taught me that: Love--deeply love--some people who are in a dire situation, and help them remove themselves from that situation. They can be released through their own dreams, their own passions, or through some outside circumstance that alters everything. I used to believe in those people and those plays, but perhaps, as Tennessee says, there is a time for everything, and perhaps our times recede.

I was fortunate enough to find islands of passion and acceptance onto which I could throw my work and see what might happen. Tennessee says he had this same good fortune. We were both lucky. We found these people and these places who were happy to work hard--for nothing but the pleasure of working--to make something happen. I was surrounded by angels.

Where are the places today? I don't know. I have worked with students at various schools, and they are wonderfully talented and eager and ready for anything, but where will they go? Where are the odd places where you can have  a play read or performed or criticized or dismissed within hours or days of it coming out of your typewriter? Where are the sympathetic eyes and ears that believe that your success increases the theatre for everyone? Where are the people who aren't careerists? One's heart has to sink when you find out that prestigious schools offer courses on selling yourself. I would recommend expressing yourself, sharing yourself, giving yourself.

But where? Where are the outlets? We are surrounded by curators, not the catalysts who can mount and alter and champion your work.

Share everything you've learned from Tennessee and his friends and angels and champions, but then try to find--for yourself and others--the magical places where they can work and grow, where we can all be a witness to the power of the theatre. 


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