Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I suspected as much might occur.
There have now been two separate reviews of The Man Who Was Thursday–Monica Westin’s in NewCity and Dylan Nelson’s in the Diversions section of the Loyola Phoenix–that make no bones about their profound disappointment in my adaptation, despite their enjoyment of the production itself. In both cases, I think it’s fairly clear that the reviewers were deeply attached to the source material and have issues with the alterations.
This is not me stomping my feet and expressing in indelible, eternal web-print how wrong Ms. Westin and Mr. Nelson are and critics all suck and how dare they etcetera. I don’t do that anymore. At least, that is to say, I try not to do that in a public forum anymore. As it is, despite my disagreement with these critics’ assessment of my stage play, I appreciate the things they forced me to explore about myself. These reviews in particular functioned, indirectly and unintentionally, as white-hat hackers, punching through the weak spots of my internal security and forcing me to re-examine the setup of my infrastructure.
Firstly, I can tell you that Westin’s review, the first one I read, provoked in me a reaction far beyond the usual bitterness that accompanies a bad review. It pushed a button I hadn’t previously been able to name and triggered a pain that was based in part on mortification. Words like “vapid,” “facile,” and “heavy-handed” are hurtful, of course (and I won’t argue whether harm was the motivation in choosing such words), but the words themselves didn’t hurt quite as much as the contention that the production had ultimately succeeded in complete spite of my participation.
And that’s something I learned about me. Rather, it’s something I always knew about me, but which I needed to have thrust in my face in order to properly articulate. I can handle not being liked. I’ve done not being liked. What I can’t handle, what grabs me by the lump in my throat and tosses me about like a rag doll, is the possibility that what could have soared instead remained earthbound, saddled with my dead weight. It feeds into my greatest fears of failure, not just for myself but for the people in my community, the nation, the world, the species. I believe in forward momentum and I believe in being a productive member of that momentum. To be told that I was instead an obstacle makes me not just want to disappear, but to have never existed in the first place. To have gotten out of the way by never having been in the way.
That’s the first thing the experience now allows me to state with confidence about myself.
Secondly, I find myself better able to describe what I value in a story, in any story, by having pointed out to me the things I clearly didn’t value in Chesterton’s original work. I am aware that The Man Who Was Thursday is a theological allegory and that Chesterton’s message was one of the inherent goodness to be found in the world. I was aware of the author’s wishes to have me feel and react a certain way, but could not, no matter how many times I read and reread the novel, feel or react in those ways.
I had no interest in the allegory. The allegory, frankly, bored me, and the ending left me feeling unsatisfied at best. I was still interested in Chesterton’s characters and approached the piece from that curiosity, from wanting to explore who these characters were, and how they reacted to the world that had been created for them. Which is, I’ll say, how I approach any story. I’m a humanist by nature and so I latch onto the humans.
I spent the entirety of the writing process unconsciously asking, over and over again, the question “What kind of man acts in this way?” I asked “Why would they make this decision?” I asked “Who is he when the narrative isn’t watching him?” It’s worth noting that these are questions any decent actor asks during their rehearsal process. I write plays for actors, and so I attempt to ask the questions that they themselves will be asking, place my answers into the fabric, and leave them there to be discovered, ignored, disagreed with.
I adapt the piece accordingly.
It is not going to satisfy the true, die-hard Chestertonian. I suspected as much might occur. We have different purposes, Chesterton and I, although I might be willing to argue that what Mr. Nelson sees as the bleakness of my unrecognizable ending was in fact underscored by my own possibly unreasonable faith in humanity, the quality that Chesterton and I hold different facets of in our hearts. But what I saw in what Chesterton had written was what I chose to bring to the table, not what Chesterton would have rather had me see.
Thursday was my first adaptation, and I am starting another one as part of an ambitious project with another local theatre company. I’m already working consciously with the things I did unconsciously during the last adaptation, viewing the story as events instigated or responded to by the characters within it.
I am looking at the humans.
I am placing in cold iron manacles the fear that the work I do will be a millstone around the neck of the project.
And this is who I am right now.