Conspiracies

Lately my posts have focused on big concepts, like sensitivity and witnessing, which may just come across as a tad didactic. Oops. But I do think those things are important to talk about when discussing the creative process and what keeps us artists goin’.

I would say I’ll focus in a bit today and write about specific processes… But nah.

I’m thinking a lot lately about how we are wired for storytelling. When confronted with weird and uncomfortable situations, our brains try their best to come up with a story: a beginning, middle, and end that makes sense of this new emotionally-laden terrain. Surges of dopamine, those “Aha” moments that make us excited, satisfy us and make us believe we’ve found objective truths. Building a pattern in our brain makes everything feel much more logical and approachable.

I’m not just making this up: check out neurologist Robert Burton’s book On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not, or science writer Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal.

But what can often happen, and what Brené Brown writes in Rising Strong, is that we confabulate and create conspiracy theories. We fill in missing information with something false, then believe it to be true.

What do we call a story that’s based on limited real data and imagined data and blended into a coherent, emotionally satisfying version of reality? A conspiracy theory.

Brené Brown, Rising Strong

As an artist, I’m interested in digging deep into the realm of conspiracy theories. What false things do we believe to be true? How are we conditioned to think certain things, and what stops us from seeing the full picture? How can stories told on stage, for example, make us question the stories we tell ourselves?

This is one of many reasons why presenting many voices and experiences on stage is so important. Representation matters not only because underrepresented people need a platform to present their work, but also because we are exploring a limited number of perspectives and presenting them as “truth”.

“This is what a family looks like”
“This is how you love someone”
“This is the path you should take to get this job”
“This is what beauty looks like”

There are a lot of assumptions of truth going on. I get woozy when I see artists claim they know the answers to life, because that means they are unaware of their own lens: their own story they’ve made up to make sense of challenges. But I get excited when artists present questions and different perspectives, acknowledging that things are frickin’ complicated. I am more interested in opening many boxes and pouring the contents out for contemplation than I am forcing people into a box and saying “This is what life looks like.”

The thing is, that approach to the creative process is so easy. We all have our own struggles and we have all developed our unique ways of handling them. It’s tempting to say “Look! This is the way!” But as an artist I try to keep questioning. I need to be able to look at the things I assume to be true and say “Does this still hold up? What other possibilities are there?” That’s an integral part of creation: innovation.

Creating is the act of paying attention to our experiences and connecting the dots so we can learn more about ourselves and the world around us.

Brené Brown, Rising Strong

And I also wonder, as a theatre maker… To what extent should I even connect the dots? Perhaps presenting a play is presenting “the dots”, the experiences of characters, design elements, blocking choices, etc., then allowing the audience to connect them themselves. The audience has to do the work to reflect, empathize, and find meaning. That’s what makes the theatregoing experience so pleasurable: those dopamine hits in our brain brought on by finding patterns.

And what if, through the theatre I create, I can allow for the possibility of audiences creating new patterns of understanding? What if they can take the stories they’ve been telling themselves and see them in a brand new light? That’d be pretty incredible. But in order to get there, I have to be willing to confront and question (decentre) my own beliefs, presenting them on stage in a way that allows audiences to contemplate them themselves.

Anyway, that’s today’s post on… conspiracies, I guess. Xo

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