Ontology of Theatre


by Julie Jensen
Presented in 2020 during the International Theatre Conference at
NEEDRAM – Center for Studies in Theatrical Staging and Dramatic Writing at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil

A Native American people, the Hopi, have a saying: 
“We are the people we have been waiting for.”   
It’s said at the beginning of a meeting: 
“We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”  
That assures the possibility of greatness,
because, after all, they were the people they had been waiting for.   
And so are we.  
We are the people we’ve been waiting for.  
And now we’re here. 
We’re ready, poised in anticipation.  
We have the theoretical underpinnings, 
the philosophical overlays, we are ready to perform 
exquisite acts of ontological proctology.  
Because we are the people we have been waiting for. 
And yet, and yet. 
And yet we have come too late.  
We could have come a year ago.  
And had we come then,
we would have proclaimed what we knew, 
announced to the world what we had learned, 
declared with conviction,
that which was true and that which we found wanting.    
We would have parted in great appreciation 
of our own brilliance and celebrated   
the firmness of our convictions. 
But…not now, not now.
Because now, the thing we studied, 
so carefully, so diligently,
has disappeared. 
The phenomenon we defined 
Is no more.  
The thing we loved to talk about, 
Dissect and discuss 
It is no longer with us.  
Whatever replaces it will be vastly different. 
 There is no way it won’t be, 
no way it will pick up from where it left off. 
That limb has been sawed from the tree.  
It will have a different spirit, 
a different voice, 
a different aesthetic,
a different reason for being.
It will be poorer and more cautious,
It will have to start all over, Mother May I,
Because, after all, it will have been mute for over a year, 
everywhere, all over the world.
Meaning that,
years from now, 
ages hence,
we will be telling our children
and our children’s children
about productions we saw, 
theatrical experiences we had.  
But those stories will be hollow, 
because our audience will have no idea 
what we are talking about. 
I am a playwright. 
I had expected to join you as a representative 
of those who craft words for plays.  
I expected to respond 
to the theoretical underpinnings
 and the philosophical overlays 
from the point of view of a working playwright.
But now, but now
I find I’m having trouble with verb tense.  
I am a playwright 
who was a playwright.
I was a playwright
back in the day. 
It’s the last job I had.  
I was a playwright. 
And as you can tell, I’ve been around for a long time.  
I feel lucky to have lived through the American theatre renaissance. 
All of it.
Beginning in the 60s,
I lived with it till it died in 2020. 
It struggled and bloomed, 
died and revived,
thrilled and disappointed, 
frightened and delighted. 
Some of it cost too much.  
Some of it was silly, 
and some of it was boring.  
That part was exuberant and audacious,
Just like the country from which it came.  
Edward Albee, Harold Pinter, David Mamet and Sam Shepard, 
our shepherds.  
Marsha Norman and Beth Henley, our patron saints, 
 Paula Vogel, Irene Fornes, and Lynn Nottage lovers for life. 
Sarah Ruhl, Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins,
 Annie Baker, and Stephen Adly Guirgis.  
A thousand others.
We shall not see their like again.
Because we must start ALL over again.
We’ll start at the very beginning.  A very good place to start.  
We’ll start with the story that has to be told, 
the words that help do that, 
and the actors who inhabit the people in the story.
Two boxes,
a plank,
and a passion, 
torn to shreds.
And those of us who make theatre, 
those of us who think about it, 
define it and argue about it, 
those of us who love it 
and have devoted our lives to it, 
yeah, our blood and treasure, 
and our sacred honor,  
those of us who have loved it so well,
that we don’t know who we are without it, 
we, poor fools,
we are stumbling in the weeds 
like Oedipus all blinded and lost.
The new people, those people right behind us.
They will make it anew.
They are the people we will be waiting for. 
It will be a brave new world.  Welcome to it. 

Julie Jensen has been writing plays for over 30 years.  She has won a dozen awards, among them The Joseph Jefferson Award in Chicago for best new work, the LA Weekly Award for best new play, and The David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award.  She has been commissioned by a dozen theatres including Kennedy Center (twice) and Actors Theatre of Louisville (twice) and Salt Lake Acting Company (twice). Chicago audiences might remember her play THE LOST VEGAS SERIES, produced by Zebra Crossing Theatre, which won a Jefferson for the best new work, STRAY DOGS, produced by Profiles Theatre and nominated for five Jefferson Awards, and WINTER, produced here at Rivendell Theatre.

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