Theatre of Cards
February 7th, 2016

Does our work live on after the final curtain? What remains when the show closes?

I used to think working in theatre was like building the card towers I spent hours on as a kid. We devote tremendous amounts of time, focus and effort building it up and at the end of the run it all comes down. Nothing remains of our combined efforts but an empty stage–or so I thought.

You see, a painter has a painting to show for his effort. It can stick around for hundreds of years or more. A sculptor has a statue that will hold its pose long after the artist is gone. So where is the theatre-artist’s Sistine Chapel, or David, or Son of Man? Does anything remain? I think it does, and I think I’ve found it.

It’s not on the stage. A set is just a set at the end of the play.

It’s not in the script or the sheet music. We could spend hours discussing music theory or the meaning of every word, and yet it remains only paper with ink.

And it’s not in the actor. At the end of the day, there’s no more art in them than there is music in an unattended piano.

So do all the fruits of our labor disappear, or do they still exist somewhere? If a curtain falls and no one’s around to hear it, was anything actually created? Anything that will remain? No. But all you need is one person to take in the play and walk away, and some part of it will remain in him. The set then comes down, the costumes go into storage and the actors go on to explore other roles, but the play remains within the audience. So what form does it take?

It’s that feeling you get when you’ve just been to a great concert or play and you leave fired up, recharged, ready for life, inspired more than before to make whatever mark you so choose on the world. It’s that bit of extra confidence you needed to quit your day job and seek your dreams. It’s the new perspective you needed to better understand the loss of a loved one or the lifestyle choices of your neighbor. That’s the medium in which all of us in the performing arts work.

You won’t find our creations on a wall somewhere, or in a garden, or up for auction at Sotheby’s, but you will find them in the millions of people who come to see our shows. You’ll find our work in the history books when society makes the slow and arduous transition away from hate and toward understanding, in part, because enough individuals saw a play or heard a song that broadened their mind.

Once I realized this, I also realized that it’s true for the painters and sculptors as well. When our race is gone, the Sistine Chapel will bear nothing more than pigment on a vault and the statue of David will be a big rock with abs and a perm. The true value of their art is in every person who sees it and walks away feeling something that wasn’t there before. Patrons to the Louvre Museum walk out with priceless pieces of art every day, without realizing it, and without lifting a single painting from the wall.

Take a moment to watch this video of a toddler spreading joy, and pay special attention to the last person she greets. This little lady’s art form is hand waives and hugs.

We all need different things at different times to help us navigate this world. Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a play, sometimes it’s a hug from a toddler a grocery store. And even though most of us don’t go into a theatre or a gallery (or a grocery store) seeking some life-changing moment, we often leave with one just the same, and it always seems to be exactly what we needed, whether we knew it or not. But it’s not the song or the play or the hug that lives on when the curtain closes and the toddler goes to bed; it’s how you feel after and the choices you make as a result.

Go. Write a play. Paint a vault. Hug a stranger. Do something to make the people who encounter you and your work richer than they were before. Change the world. Why? Because you can.