Immortal, Ephemeral

I was thinking in the car yesterday about how my two loves, writing and theatre, are opposites, in a way.

Writing, if you are lucky, is a method of immortality, especially for someone like me who doesn’t want to have physical children. Through writing, we can read the thoughts of someone from thousands of years ago. I think that’s incredible.

On the other hand, how many songs do we know from thousands of years ago? We may have lyrics, if we are lucky. Now, as I understand it, part of that might be a lack of standardized notation system in the past. But I think there are inherent difficulties in storing music or live performances. Formats change. I might record a CD of that performance now, but what kinds of media will they be using thousands of years in the future? We don’t know. Writing, on the other hand, especially when it’s physical, just needs someone to find and decipher it if it’s in a different language.

I realize that it’s not as simple as that, of course – cultural context gets lost a lot of the time, and nuances that come from seeing someone’s body language or hearing their voice, nuances that can be more universal. But, judging from the experience of the past, it seems to me that as things are, writing is perhaps a more reliable – not necessarily better – way of creating a long-lasting legacy.

Theatre impacts people in a different way, though perhaps no less important. Theatre, to me, is about raising energy levels and creating a unique, in-the-moment experience for the audience. Theatre is about coming in to the theatre in a bad mood, worried about your bills or those other kids teasing you in school, and getting lost in the experiences of the characters – experiences that you can identify with, or want to feel along with the characters as the story moves along.

Theatre is incredibly ephemeral. And I think for someone like me, who loves to plan for the future and be in my head a lot, that requirement to stay in the moment for both the performer and the audience is important. The audience member needs to pay attention, or they might miss something beautiful. The performer, of course, needs to be fully present in order to give of their energy to the audience and give an outstanding performance.

Theatre is gone at the end of the night. The curtain falls, and at the end of the show’s run, we strike the set and most of the physical evidence of the show is gone. We may save playbills and tickets, and if we are lucky, have some kind of photo or even video of the experience, but even that is rather rare. And a playbill, while useful and nostalgic, doesn’t begin to compare to the experience of the actual performance.

However, writing, in its exact, current form, can provide a powerful mental experience to the one who reads it. I have a friend who says that writing is inherently unnatural because it’s meant to capture thoughts in the absence of being in the same time or place. It’s a container for thoughts that is only necessary when there is distance. But I think that’s exactly what I find fascinating and amazing about writing. It’s imperfect, to be sure, and again, nuances can be lost. But there may be no better way to preserve my thoughts for posterity, thousands of years into the future. And yet, the shows I perform in may provide a memorable experience that stays with someone throughout their life, affecting their actions and the general energy flow of the world they inhabit.

One is immortal, the other is ephemeral. Both are important.