Why Are We Here?

[Note: below is a draft speech I composed for the Playwrite Showcase last week. I was asked to host and it was awesome. The speech I ended up giving was shorter and more tailored and worked just fine, but I like the broader points here so much that I'm posting it here, where I should be posting more things if only I had the wherewithal.]

My name is Paul Susi, I'm your MC tonight, blah blah blah...

Why are we here? That's the first question the lead coach asks every day of the Playwrite workshop program. It's a great question, it works on several levels: #1. It's easy. Most of us will know in real terms, why we enter a given room before we do. Unless, of course, we don't. 2. The question goes, "Why are WE here?" Which is great, it lays the groundwork for a collaboration between equally dedicated people, as opposed to the status differences of teacher and student. 3. "Why are we HERE?" We focus attention on the task at hand--not the big picture that paralyzes, not the home situation or the school or the rest of the endless reasons to do nothing, say nothing, write nothing--no, this room, this moment, this thing right now.

In the big picture, US household wealth went from 64 trillion in 2007 to 51.5 trillion by the end of 2008. 13 trillion evaporated. Oregon's deficit in this biennium is 850 million. The Literary and Education Dept.s of two major theatres in this city have disappeared, almost overnight. Which means we in the theatre community have mortgaged our futures, just as much as everybody else.

So Why are we here? Realists and cynics, who are perfectly rational and even lovable people, oppose arts funding for entirely understandable reasons. "How can we fund your thing," they ask, when I need to fund hospitals and schools and all those other things, too? What makes what you do more deserving, more real, than all those other priorities?"

Each of us in this room, every beating heart gathered here tonight has a stake in what happens, up on this stage. We are parents and teachers, counselors, coaches, actors and writers, and all of us, every single one of us, living, breathing humans that think and feel. But what we do here, everything from these last two years' worth of workshops to this night with you in this space here and now, is somehow less substantial, less quantifiable--less real--than the 13 trillion that evaporated last year. It's less real than the big pictures that paralyze--the endless reasons not to act, not to hope, not to write.

I'm at once both a realist and a fool, deeply serious and a deeply whimsical man. I believe that truth happens in the space between the irreconcilable, in the impossible places, the backbreaking moments between our writers and our coaches. Between humans.

In this theatre tonight you're going to see the impossible. Singing typewriters, needy toothbrushes, gophers who can't dig. An organization that fights tooth and nail for that most impossible of things, the 1 to 1 ratio. And most impossibly of all, an whole host of playwrights and songwriters who've spent most of their lives surrounded by realists telling them to do less, try less, hope for less.

Every word you hear sung or spoken tonight--aside from mine--was written by these humans seated up front. We're here tonight to recognize that, and to recognize all of our collective parts in that achievement.

I say the world outside is filled with impossible, imaginary, unreal things, bigger than any one of us, more than we know what to do with. We're here tonight, the reason why we're here is so that the rest of us can somehow learn from these writers, how to do the impossible.

So turn off your cell phones, forget about the big picture. Halfway through, there'll be a 15 minute intermission. And at the end of the evening, and again tomorrow, and again a week from now, I dare all of us to ask ourselves again, why are we here?




Excerpt from my Letter to B

...What does feel new at this point, at least to me, is a growing trust in the intuitive course of these issues. The back-and-forth, call-and-response quality of my vocational questings do seem to seamlessly fold into each other, piece by piece and slowly resolving into a larger whole, serene in its contradictions. Without any substantive evidence to say so, somehow I'm still convinced of the correctness of all this. Similarly, Plutarch didn't cite the decline of oracles as proof the gods don't exist; instead, he affirms that "the god's abandoning of many oracles is nothing other than his way of substantiating the desolation of Greece." Which I interpret to mean, in my own, sybilline fashion, that even my ample evidence attesting that I have no real idea what I'm doing, indicates only that my decisions are mine to make, and not that I don't exist, say, or that they're being arbitrarily made for me by an indifferent power, or such like. This is encouraging, I feel. One less thing to worry about, you know?