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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Building Bridges

Today my little brother Ben (he's four years younger than me) interrupted me while I was reading a book on Yiddish theatre. He told me he'd just finished reading a short story which had creeped him out and confused him, and he wanted me to read it and tell him what I thought it was about. When I asked him how long it was, he informed me that it was only about five pages.
Five pages? I thought. Not very long. But I gave the story the benefit of the doubt--my thus-far only published story is only four pages, so there you go. Agreeably, I picked up the anthology, flipped to the page he indicated, and started in.
About fifteen minutes later, I closed the book and turned to Ben, who was giving me an expectant look. "I have to tell you, kid...I have no idea what it's about, either."
We spent the next half hour trying desperately to put some meaning to the mystery story. We both agreed that there SEEMED to be some profound message SOMEWHERE in the five-page puzzler, but neither of us could put our finger on it. Ben was more outraged than I was; he's an avid reader, and it bothered him, I think, that this simple story had thwarted his inquiries. I was somewhat amused by the whole thing; I wondered what the author might say in explanation of himself, if questioned about the story.
Now, I never want to condemn another artists' work. As I've said before, I think art is anything that comes from man's creative labor. That said, the story both puzzled and intrigued me. The ending of the piece was extremely ambigous--there was no resolution, as far as I could tell. It just sort of...stopped. It almost felt to me as if the author forgot to write an ending. I know this isn't the case, but it still bothered me that there was absolutely no finish.
But above all, what bothered me most was that I had to work to understand the story. I still don't understand it. I believe that in the storytelling arts (such as theater and writing, which are of course my focuses) the audience shouldn't have to work too hard to understand the message.
Take Shakespeare, for example. Although I'm sure Billy Shakes didn't realize that his work would be nigh-incomprehensible for the masses hundreds of years later--or even that it would still be around--the fact remains that Shakespeare is tricky stuff for a lot of us. I've read several of his plays and taken classes to understand them, and I still have trouble sometimes. But the thing is, Shakespeare isn't meant to be read--at least, his plays aren't. They're meant to be performed.
When I saw Much Ado About Nothing in August (yes, I'm FINALLY getting around to talking about that, lol) I'd never read the play. I had a basic idea of the plot, but I didn't know much. My brother knew even less. Yet we both agreed by the end of the show that we understood most of what had happened.
Why? The acting. Perhaps we couldn't translate every single word that came out of the actor's mouth, but we instantly understood the intent behind it. If an actor states blandly, "Friendship is constant in all other things, save in the office and affairs of love: Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues; Let every eye negotiate for itself, and trust no agent," we are, perhaps, confused. But if this same actor laments this while clutching his chest, we understand instantly,
a-ha, he's been betrayed! In other words, we as an audience don't have to struggle to keep up with the story.
In the story that I read today, however, I was left staring at the last sentence, wondering, did I miss something? Did a page get ripped out of this book? What's the meaning here? What did the author want to tell me when he wrote this? I still have no idea what the answers to these questions are. My brother read the story twice and he has no idea what the answers are. Again, I'm not saying the story was bad, or that it was badly written. But I was dissatisfied after reading it, and dissapointed. I wished that I had been able to grasp what the author wanted me to know.
When we create, we build a bridge to invite other people into our world. We say, "Look--this is the way I see things. Would you like to look through my eyes at my universe?" We must remember that the bridge will always seem safe to those of us who built it, and the path to our world will always seem easy to understand for those of us who constantly traverse it. It's all to easy to get caught up in our own creativity and forget the outside world. If you create art only for yourself, there is nothing wrong with this--it gives you an outlet, and a good one at that. But if you create with the intention of sharing your creations with outside viewers, it's always good to leave a few signposts along the way to the bridge.
We wouldn't want our audience to lose their way. ;-)