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 30, 2018

ADVENTURES IN YES: "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

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.

That might seem to some to a little counterintuitive. At a moment like that, wouldn't a little escapism be in order? But as Steppenwolf artistic director Anna Shapiro said to me when I saw her in the lobby and told her where I'd just been and what I was doing, “This is the perfect show for you to see tonight."

She was right, of course. Seeing that story unfold live on stage in front of me in the company of a few hundred other people with parents and kids (and the accompanying joys and stresses) reminded me that I couldn’t possibly be the only one going through something like this. These are universal experiences -- why else would people write, present and attend plays about them?

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

Two cases in point.

A few weeks back, just 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, yes, shattering, but also deeply encouraging 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 story unfold in ways that resonate with our past and present all too recognizably, Indecent took my breath away. And then, like most good stories, it gave it back. And so I breathed it in, deeply, first in communion with the audience and then in the lobby during conversations, tears and hugs with the cast. In what other setting do you get to do that?

The next 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.

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, to watch a privileged white man lord his feelings of entitlement over others less white, less male and, to his way of thinking, less deserving, all while 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. Here was the perfect way to engage, while also feeling connected to others, immersed in the issues and comforted by community.

I love that feeling.

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, right?

So much better than running away from the world it is to run right into it, head first into ideas, situations, dreams, 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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