Gus Cuddy | Essays:

Who says?

10 November 2018

It is tradition, the accumulation of experience, the ashes of memory, that make the mind old. The mind that dies every day to the memories of yesterday, to all the joys and sorrows of the past—such a mind is fresh, innocent, it has no age; and without that innocence, whether you are ten or sixty, you will find God.

Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti is offering deep insight into how to live, but I think this applies to art, as well, and reaching towards transcendence.

When staging classics (and also new plays), there’s a tendency for directors to fall back on old ideas.

Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re falling into these ideas.

For instance, why does every production of Hamlet start with dry ice and a boring ghost? Why are Goneril and Regan usually dressed in leather and made into villains from the first scene? Why are you casting a white actor here, or a cis male actor? Why is this a staging that we’ve seen a million times already? Why is this a naturalistic set?

To make great theatre, we need to look at everything with fresh, innocent eyes. To wash away the “ashes of memory”.

Who says it has to be done like that?

Who says verse has to be spoken like you’ve been taught in grad school, to make us really understand you “get” how verse works? Who says this needs to take place in a theatre? Who says they need to be pretty? Who says you can’t just rewrite an old play to have it make sense to 2018 ears? Who says you can’t re-arrange the music? Who says it needs to be done in period dress?

Really, there are no rules. We don’t need the same production one more time, just because one old white dude many years ago decided that’s how it’s supposed to go.

You can see examples of “who says” in film and TV: David Lynch, for instance, does not give a single damn about what’s “trendy” in prestige TV and movies – he sees things with fresh eyes (to be fair, sometimes to the detriment of accessibility). Or in the third season of one of my favorite shows, The Leftovers, they switch up the music that’s played over the opening credits each week: who says a TV show’s credits can’t change up and be creative? (This is among many, many other “who says” moments in the show.)

When we make theatre and other art we need to always question assumptions and easy, lazy choices, consistently asking ourselves: who says? Blow off the doors to passed-down-upon-wisdom, enter into the unknown, and make something truly original.