It’s about hope, she said, explaining her new musical based on The Time Traveler’s Wife, in London. Almost any play worth staging is about hope; as is every book worth typing, every sermon worth the pulpit, every speech worth giving. But so much of our electronic space seems designed to exaggerate fear, distance, venal irrelevance and disconnection. Even in our highest arts of meaning-making such as the theater, we can forget why we are able to communicate at all, what words are for.
It’s about hope.
The worst of us say that hope is delusion that it’s really all about violence, money and domination. They cower behind a self-serving intellectual laziness accusing us of not knowing how life works.
Nobody knows more about unfair reality than artists, especially those in theater. They are blessed but also cursed by talent that wanted to flow like hot lava their whole life. But they were usually the wrong size, color, sex, pitch of voice, perspective in the wrong town, country and century in front of the wrong casting committee, much less audience, who had someone else in mind. True of the ones’ aiming for the stage and those behind the curtain, imagining the lines, music, set or trying to run the business of the arts. That’s before the professionally unhappy people called critics have their shot. It’s a rare artist with healthcare insurance, savings or rent in the bank or any hope their kids get straight teeth, much less private college.
Artists know all about unfair; always have. And because of that they know that nothing is more important than the words that bring hope to life again and again. You can’t do that alone; you need a congregation a company of friends.
The friends of Shakespeare improbably managed to salvage the scraps of his plays into the collection that are fundamental to English—one could argue human—culture. The Book of Will is the story of those friends, a love letter to all those who find hope in language, especially in really tough places. Prescott is one of those tough places, the second poorest borough in England a long way from the West End of London. The town improbably built the Shakespeare North Playhouse here during COVID. This was the site where some of Shakespeare original actors played those centuries ago long before immunization or modern sanitation. Death and suffering were common around the theater then as they are today in Afghanistan. One of the actual first folios was on display downstairs from where a new troupe of actors took to the stage yet once again giving themselves to raising up the words. Why did Will’s friends speak then? Why do these friends do so now?
It’s about hope.
This is also true of those who use god-talk in a room built much like theaters, though usually with worse acoustics and less comfortable seats. The sister of the director of Book of Will is a vicar in a church in London. Both theater and theology depend on the rich for the bricks, so have had to put up with a lot of people dismissive of their most noble work. The god-places are more likely to have food pantries and clothes closets than bars, but both exist for others, not themselves. They point beyond, within and among those of us hoping for hope.
So when they say that hope is not a delusion, you have to pause.
“All I have is too little time on earth.”
“I should savor all I can.”
“I would stop right now on an ordinary day
And forget about tomorrow.
“I don’t need tomorrow.”
“Measure out these days till they slip away.”
“All I need is this little time on earth.”*
“Make it new.”**