In class with Nina Steiger at Drama Centre we got to something important.
The point was raised that writers, the best, the most authentic, really go to the places they write about. I believe this is true and also not true. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Most writers I know write from a deep sense of love, or at least, they cannot write with hate in their heart. They can certainly write about hate, but the thing that drives them is a deep love. How that love comes out of them is their business, and how the shadow is entwined like the briar and the rose is also their business.
The best writers convince us they speak from deep experience, but we know that isn’t always the case. Hemingway wrote about his delight when an invention of his was perceived as biographical, and indeed he isn’t alone. Writers draw from all influences, from the whole world around them. They observe, and they know that the very act of their observation has an influence on proceedings. It’s physics.
We are judged on this, what we write on the page. Speculation is part of the deal, it excites many readers. It happens all the time that a play leads back to a point of view on the person who wrote it. Psychoanalytic criticism whether lay or otherwise is part of the landscape of writing. There isn’t really any point in fighting against this, I write what I like, so why complain? I can console myself with having done my job, drawing from wherever I have the capacity, in order to tell the story. If people want to comment on its honesty, its bravery, and truthfulness (which they do) – who am I to tell them otherwise? It help’s me try again. I’m grateful. Likewise, when you are perceived in negative terms, its part of the deal. In its own way it is fortifying. The truthfulness of a piece of work is determined by many factors, and not only those of the writer.
I once observed a critic after a production of mine. A young woman, who after the show, sat in her seat in a state of distress. She came to, and looked at me. I could see what it had done to her, and she simply said ‘you’re getting one star’ – I have no doubt I deserved it. I wouldn’t dream of trying to persuade her otherwise. That was real. I garnered 4 and 5 star reviews elsewhere, but that moment where she spoke is the one I remember best, and I’m grateful for it.
I’ve observed many times, often enough to consider myself very lucky, that the actors I work with consistently have a gift for bringing their own thoughts and feelings to the work in an utterly truthful way. I don’t see much difference between the work of the actor and writer when it comes to telling the truth. Both will go to the pain, the love, and they will mint a story from it. They do this with an abiding truthfulness that cannot be denied, and cannot be mistaken. It is the real thing.
The truth is though, you can’t take responsibility for your work without complete freedom. It doesn’t matter where it comes from, how you got to it, or what you do with it – unless you have your freedom. As Freud pointed out most people do not want freedom, because freedom implies responsibility, and most people are afraid of responsibility. For that reason, a lot of artists won’t take responsibility for their work, and those who do are battered and pressed down as much as possible – because they lead the way. They take us to a terrifying world where we are free, with nobody else responsible for our actions, and the way we choose to live our lives. For this reason art of all kinds is incredibly valuable to us, sometimes only as a brief visit to a world that is free, sometimes to a life that is free and authentically so. But look around and ask yourself, who are the people who have a vested interest in freedom? The answer is you and me. Then look a bit further, who is concerned with withholding it? Answer the question, act accordingly.