Early in the pandemic T3 made a promise that even if we can’t produce theater, we were going to talk and write about it. Even in the off season, you gotta exercise and stay limber! And since its inception, the T3Writes Blog initiative had a mandate to not only cater to theater insiders but welcome the uninitiated! it’s a risk-free adventure for the theater-curious! Nicole Neely kicks off our new T3Writes Genre Series with perhaps the most misunderstood theatre genre, Theater of the Absurd. so park your rhinoceros. Tell Godot you’ll get back to him. And do some eye-listening.
Absurd Theatre: It Feels Bad and That’s the Point
By Nicole Neely
I remember reading Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano in college and throwing the script across the room. When asked how I felt about the play, I said that I hated it. When asked why, I said that I couldn’t fathom appreciating a pocket of theatre revolving around life being meaningless.
I remember seeing a collection of plays and monologues inspired by Samuel Beckett and bitching all the way home. The artists featured were so talented, but I left feeling emptier than when I walked in.
I remember seeing a production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan and loving one of the final monologues, but ultimately feeling like a piece of crap when I left the theatre.
Absurd plays feel bad. It’s a bold statement and I’m sure you disagree with me. If a play doesn’t teach me anything, if there is no semblance of a journey, it feels unfinished and uncomfortable. “I DON’T WANT IT!” I scream, as I watch eight more hours of Hallmark Christmas movies. If you had asked me last week what my feelings on absurd theatre were, I would have found my copy of The Bald Soprano and thrown it across the room again.
Last Friday, I visited the Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio. This garden is a tiny, gorgeous little space filled with greenery, shimmering ponds, and beauty. It feels like you step out of the dirty city street and into a fairy tale. It looks to be a symbol of hope, a relief created for people to enjoy. One step in, I take a deep breath and feel grateful, how could anyone feel anything other than grateful? One more step, and I see a penis carved into an aloe leaf. Not… great, but I shake it off. Another step, and I see rocks shaped into a swastika. Wow, that sucks. I move the rocks around. A few more steps away from that, and I see an entire structure in the garden covered in graffiti. Right then, it occurred to me. This garden built with an intention of peace and beauty is being broken down, piece by piece by people. Everything in the world is broken down piece by piece by people. Perhaps life is meaningless. Perhaps there is no one thing held sacred by everyone in the world at any given moment. For the first time in my life, I understood why writers choose to write in the absurd. At the beginning of our careers, we are told to write what we know. Be truth tellers. The truth is… life is a little bit meaningless. Humans are so complex, LIFE is so complex and everyone has a set of fundamental truths comprised of vastly different colors than the person standing next to us. It can be maddening. In the past few days, it’s helped me understand why people who have grown up in the Bible belt (or in other extremely firm religions) have a hard time empathizing with people who live very different truths. When you sit comfortably on a strong pillar built on a set of rules you have affirmed over the course of your life, people will begin challenging certain pieces, weakening it. It doesn’t feel good. It’s not meant to feel good. Because as soon as that pillar of fundamental truths breaks down, you come face to face with the very thing you’ve tried to avoid; people with thoughts and feelings different from your own. I’ve come to realize that everyone sees themselves as the protagonist of their own story, however dark their fundamental truths. Even those with the brightest of intentions become their personal antagonist the moment their reality is challenged.
I officially get it. I GET IT OKAY. Challenging the pillars of fundamental truths is one of the bravest things we can do as artists. The protagonist doesn’t always learn something. Sometimes, it’s all they can do to exist.