Something Like an Epiphany

In my earlier post, I voiced my hopes of finding artistic inspiration in London. I’m glad I found what I was looking for and perhaps a little more. While exploring the cultural landscape of London, I had the opportunity to visit the British Library. The library housed a literary sanctuary very rightly called the “Treasures of the British Library.” The gallery harbored handwritten journals, manuscripts, edited drafts by some of the most renowned authors. It was an out-of-body experience to gaze upon Shakespeare’s First Folio; Jane Austen’s comic account of the “History of England”; and the illustrated manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Within the dark room, with a faint light shining upon these manuscripts and journals as if illuminating some gospel truth, I felt like I had stumbled upon the very source of what has been driving me all these years: words. Not just any words, but words that have lived on in memory and in material—spoken, read, analyzed and remembered by people like me. And I began to wonder: why is it that it feels like I’m gazing upon the works of old friends? What is this affinity?

In “Theatre and Audience,” Helen Freshwater quotes Peter Handke’s address to the audience: “You are the topic…you are the center. You are the occasion. You are the reason why” (1). Thus, art almost always assumes some affinity with the audience. Extending that to all art forms, I would say that spectatorship and readership are central to the definition of arts. I believe ‘art’ is not just some inherent attribute of creative work—it’s also the interaction between an artist and an audience, with the artwork as a mediator. Theatre is a prime example of this kind of artistic barter— “the presence of an audience is central to the definition of theatre” (Freshwater 1). We participate in art by giving our attention to it, and that is a profoundly significant gift to both the artist and ourselves. It is perhaps what I meant by inspiration: where all art gives rise to new artistic thought and this goes on till eternity, producing new art in its wake.

Consequently, I realized that I was in pursuit of the arts long before it became a degree for me—I have been an artist for as long as I have been a reader. As Freshwater explains: “analysis… can be a creative act in and of itself” (24). Thus, readership, scholarship, analysis, and adaptations—elements of thinking like an audience—are all extensions of art itself. As I slowly moved across the treasures of the British Library, taking in Virginia Woolf’s handwritten draft of “The Hours,” Sylvia Plath’s edited drafts, Ted Hughes’ notes about Sylvia Plath, and Lewis Carroll’s manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Underground, I felt truly involved in their genius by the virtue of my spectatorship.

Hence, I had something like an epiphany in that darkened room. As readers and spectators, we capture and preserve, and thus, sustain and produce art (so no, this degree isn’t as futile as the cynics would have us believe). As Jaques says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It:  All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (II.VII.138-139, pp. 1647). While I always assumed that the famous quote meant that we’re all performers, perhaps it also means that we’re all creative audience members—all the world’s a stage because all the world’s an artful voyeur.

Works Cited

Freshwater, Helen. Theatre and Audience. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It.The Norton Shakespeare, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, Norton, 2008, 2nd Edition, pp. 1615-1681.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/sir-gawain-and-the-green-knight

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/shakespeares-first-folio

Something Like Tabula Rasa

Claiming to be a writer is eighty percent unadulterated passion for literature. The remaining twenty percent is anxiously questioning whether you even are a writer or have the experiences necessary to become one. When I came to university, I willed myself to explore different genres of writing. However, I was always complacently neglectful of playwriting: perhaps because playwriting isn’t a standalone form of art—plays are written with the expectation of live performance. Moreover, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch many theatre performances. As a reader of plays, I have been intrigued by what goes into writing a play, yet inevitably have felt that I’m missing the essence of the play by missing out on its performance. What brought me to Destination Theatre was a serious lack of knowledge about the performance arts and a serious desire to experience all that theatre has to offer. I believe that to understand how a play is written, it’s crucial to understand performance itself. So, I have come to this course with a sort of a “clean slate”—ready for the first experiences of the delight of theatre.

When Destination Theatre presented itself, I was overjoyed: partly because I am absolutely in love with all that London represents (Literature, architecture and, if I may, Doctor Who) and partly because I’m intrigued by performance and playwriting. After a lot of thinking and over-thinking I concluded that if I do in fact love literature and writing as much as I claim to, it would be foolish of me forego an opportunity that offers such exposure to art and what actually goes into creating and extending that art. Hence, here I am—curious, daunted, but eager to learn.

I have come to this course with love for the arts and a belief in the legacy of theatre and performance which have existed since time was a thing. I have come to this course with a passion for words and how they come to life at the hands of a playwright and then by the work of the performing troupes. There is very little I know about the expanse that is theatre and performance studies and that, even though is terrifying, spurred me to take on this course. For me, there has always been certain elusiveness associated with theatre and its communities. Hence, I am thrilled to get an opportunity to watch mind-blowing performances, to work with immensely knowledgeable people, to be able to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and to visit England which, as a literature student, I associate with everything that’s classic. I hope by the end of this course, I can incorporate my learning about performance, theatre, language, and literature into my writing. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be writing my own plays!

I’m not embarking on this journey with any concrete questions, but I have a feeling I am going to return with answers to questions I didn’t know I had (I’m kidding, I do have questions: Where and how do I “casually” run into David Tennant while I’m there?). In all, I am pretty intimidated to be traveling to a new place—to experience the realm of theatre with a “clean slate”—but I am hoping to make the most of this opportunity. I’m hoping London will prove to be a source of inspiration—for my writing, my budding admiration for theatre, and my wandering soul.