Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

November 5, 2018

We're All In This Together

There's no way out but through, and no better way through than a theater.

Ashley Neal and Courtney Williams in Rivendell Theatre's SCIENTIFIC METHOD

The first girl who broke my heart didn’t really do anything other than also be in my eighth-grade class and stop being interested in going to the movies with me anymore. But at 14, that qualifies for heartbreak.

I got the “let’s just be friends” phone call at around 8pm on a mid-June evening. In Cincinnati, mid-June evenings are still sunny until just past nine o’clock, so it was still light outside when I went up to my room, put on The Beatles’ Love Songs compilation, and crawled into bed in tears, listening endlessly to “The Long and Winding Road,” which kept winding, and winding, and winding until I fell asleep.

Boy, do I like me a good wallow. Always have.

I know people who understandably want something to take their mind offtheir troubles; I’ve almost always turned to art to get me through them. I only very rarely want art to help me forget and escape. I want art to make me feel less alone.

So apart from giving myself a breather with the ever-sunny Star Wars, A Hard Day’s Night or Indiana Jones movies (which weren’t easy to come by in the days before on-demand),when I was down, I wanted my music, movies, TV and art to go there with me. No way out but through, as they say.

Case in point. A couple of years ago, coming home from visiting my mom when she was having a few health issues (from which she recovered, thankfully), I went straight from the airport to Steppenwolf to see Visiting Edna, a play about… a guy in his early 50’s going to visit his mother who was having some health issues.

WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, some people might ask. But as Steppenwolf artistic director Anna Shapiro said to me when I saw her in the lobby, “This is the perfect show for you to see tonight.”

And it was. Seeing this story unfold live on stage in front of me, in the company of a few hundred other people with parents, kids and the accompanying joys stresses of their own, reminded me that I couldn’t possibly be the only one going through something like this. Why else would people write, present and attend these kinds of plays?

Seeing a movie about the subject might have been a very different experience. I saw Steppenwolf’s classic August: Osage County in Chicago, on Broadway and on tour six times and, despite the dysfunction on display on stage, found the experience of sharing it in a theater exhilarating and communal. Watching the same story unfold in the film version was, for me, dour and lonely. There are a few reasons for that, but chief among that is that there’s a communal aspect to live theater that doesn’t happen in at the movies. There are certain kinds of stories that are going to work best in cinemas, and certainly there are excellent intimate family dramas out there, but, much as I love going to the movies (and I really, really do), live theater's capacity to be comforting and challenging is unsurpassed. In the give and take of energy and emotion between audience and performers, an atmosphere and agreement is created that just does not happen when you sit in the dark watching a projection on a screen.

And as our world and lives keep changing, our need for stories both timeless and timely is ongoing. And, when so many in power are either telling bad stories badly or neglecting to tell stories at all, that need is more urgent than ever.

Two cases in point.

On Wednesday night, just a few days after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, I went to Victory Gardens to see Indecent, which deals with anti-Semitism, the holocaust and the way fearful and authoritarian regimes use all the means at their disposal to crush anything they perceive to be different, disruptive or disorderly.

Talk about timeless and timely.

With so many friends involved in creating, performing and producing Indecent, I’d have gone no matter what. But to see this show, at this time, was shattering and empowering. Indecent wasn’t written this year, nor was it about the attack on Tree of Life. But it feels like it could have been. As I watched, the play took my breath away. And then, like most good stories, it gave me my breath back. And so I breathed it in, deep, first in the audience member and then in the lobby, where I shared conversations and hugs with the cast.

In what other setting do you get to do that?

Thursday night I went to Rivendell’s world premiere staging of Scientific Method. It’s a compelling and wonderfully acted story about people researching cures for cancer, and how sexism, racism and privilege rear their ugly heads even (perhaps especially) among those with seemingly lofty goals within seemingly lofty institutions.

This is obviously a timeless problem, and I’m certain I'd have found myself both entertained and riled up no matter when I’d seen it. But on the heels of the Kavanaugh hearings and immersed as we are in the promise and rage of the much-needed #MeToo movement, seeing seeing this white man lord his privilege over others less white, less male and, to his way of thinking, less deserving than he, in the intimate setting of a great Chicago storefront theater like Rivendell… well, my blood ran even hotter, my heart pounded that much more powerfully and my mind raced that much faster.

I loved it.

And so, exhilarated once more by our amazing regional theater artists, I walked out into the crisp Chicago night provoked, challenged and inspired. And, most of all and once again, I felt less alone.

Not bad for a couple of evening’s entertainment.

So much better than running away from the world it is to run right into it, head first into ideas, situations, dreams and nightmares and hopes that excite us, frustrate it, thrill us, and, whether we want to celebrate the world or change it, make us glad to be alive.

If there’s no way out but through – and, as all the great stories tell us, there really isn’t – then there’s no better place to go through, or to, than a theater.

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