My weekend was bookended by two evenings of story-telling that were filled with devised performances by Williamstown apprentices, who each shared stories from their lives.
The nights were each special, holding in the air the certain je ne sais quoi of Williamstown magic, an ephemeral feeling of youth and talent and unspeakable beauty. Dozens of company members were crammed into the dark and sweaty black box studio to witness the performers bearing their souls.
The performances had a rhythm, delicately balancing the humor and the heartache. I threw my head back laughing, but also had people I’d never spoken to before break me down to tears.
While everyone was telling their stories, I was struck by the realization that everyone in that room has lived such separate, diverse lives, but that each of those lives has led us to the exact same place at the exact same moment: the directing studio at Williamstown Theatre Festival at 11pm on a summer Sunday night. Our paths will continue to go in different directions, and we may never all be together in the same room ever again, but for one night, we all reveled in the same, glorious experience.
It was all so deliciously human of us to be telling stories of love and loneliness, of pain and joy, of togetherness and what it means to be seen and heard and connect with other humans. On those nights, we learned from our pasts, we taught others, and we grew together. And it was beautiful.
The nights were also deeply honest. People were up there telling a room full of friends and strangers their hidden fears, their strongest desires, their innermost secrets. They were vulnerable, soaked in both truth and the unspoken permission to fully be themselves, all guards down. It was brave. Liberating, even to watch.
There was so much love and openness that existed in that space. There was a collective agreement to forget what made us different and instead celebrate what connects all of us, what makes us all human.
The title of the evenings was “Are You Listening?” and there was an understanding that the performers were letting us in, showing us a part of themselves that not everyone gets to see. They trusted us, asking us to listen to them, and hoping that we care. They asked us to love them for who they are, scars and all. We may not know what will happen in the morning, in a week, in a month, but at that moment, they handed us their hearts and expected us not to break them.
It was a sobering reminder of how theatre, when it is stripped down, to its core, is about stories. It’s about finding human moments of truth and putting them on stage, allowing us to feel a little less alone. It’s about forgiving each other and paying attention. It’s about seeing a piece of yourself on that stage. What’s the point of theatre if it isn’t honest, if it doesn’t hold up a mirror and reflect the world we live in?
On those two breathtaking nights, we laughed together, we cried together, we empathized. It was a way to get through all of the things that happened this year. Something happens to you when you begin to cry, but you realize that everyone else around you is crying, too. It’s cathartic. And you will never have a better hug in your entire life than after you and a friend have been crying together at the theatre.
These nights were one of the best, most organic things to come out of the Festival, but they were only experienced by a handful of people. However, the lucky few who did bear witness were reminded that we need to take time to stop and actually listen to the people in our lives. We need to get past the mess in our heads and forgive the mess in other people’s heads. We might actually learn something every once in a while.
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