Last night, sitting on the balcony and watching the birds swoop across the sky in waves, like schools of fish, and trying to decide if that's a murmuration or just flocking without looking at my phone to see what the difference was. Our voices got quieter and hushed as the dusk shifted the sky to darker shades of purple or violet, a difference I also don't know without looking it up. You told me about a discussion or debate you'd recently had with a friend over whether theater can still serve any purpose in a world like this one. This one incorporating climate change and now a war that is not quite at our doorstep. You'd argued that of course it did, of course stories, always, as long as we've been here. Of course. But you came away wondering if you were right. It was my job to hear that fear and to tell you that of course you were right: of course stories, always. As usual with rehearsals I didn't do as well as I could have, so now I try again.
Of course theater, because of course stories. This, our humanity, how we pass our knowledge to each other most effectively and longest. Cave paintings. Ancient cultures. Acting it out. Stories are how we tell each other things, with and without words. What do we tell each other? Where the food is. Adventures we had. What to look out for. We tell each other stories to inform and to warn and to entertain. Stories to pass on to the future what we've learned so far, so we don't have to learn it again. We tell each other stories to hold back the dark, or to make the dark less frightening. Shh, go to sleep. I will tell you the story of tomorrow: how the sun will be hidden from us and then rise again.
I cannot imagine a world without stories, without words. And yet, as a wise woman has pointed out, we seem to be living at or near the end of the world. Well not the world altogether, just the world as we inhabit it, humans. I think so. So the stories we are telling are not stories for the future, but stories we tell ourselves. The sun will continue to rise and set with or without our observation; starlings will fill the sky and will not care if we know what they are called. Do the stories we tell continue to have value if they do not continue beyond us?
I didn't think I'd live past fifty. At this point every year is a combination of a revelation and curiosity to see how much further I'll go, and to be honest at this point whether I'll outlast the world. I try to love what I can while realizing each time could be the last time I see or hear or smell or taste something. There is no smell in the world more sweet and primal than a baby's head, but when my son say he'll never have children and I'll never be a grandmother I only feel profound relief. On some level I've already said goodbye to almost everything but that would be really very hard.
Theater is not dead; theater will not die until we die. The issue of whether it serves a purpose now, while we are alive, is not the part that frightened your friend and that in turn frightened you. The real fear is the realization that this will not be for very long, and that the darkness is coming. We're only telling stories to ourselves now, I think. But the darkness is always where we told stories anyway. Stories in general and theater specifically: the shared experience of telling and listening is literally vital. Let's put on a play, let's do what we can, not because it makes a difference to our future, because I don't believe it does, but because it's how we connect with each other as long as we can.