Theatre – “Epistle”

by Glenn Apollo Hergenhahn-Zhao

Dear Small Town,
This is the understanding. Perhaps we weren’t clear. Art is made in places like this, far removed from your provincial, hidebound town. Theatre is made here. Plays are tried and tested, reviewed and digested until any questions they raise are answered and their meanings established. Only then, and after a suitable passage of time, are they shipped off to your charming region where you have such a senseless number of trees and a complete lack of wherewithal to make real art for yourself.
– The Big City (you know the one)


Dear Big City,
Thank you for the letter. It’s helpful to have these things that have been so long unspoken, written so plainly. I can’t begin to tell you the love we have for the plays that have found their way to us from the lights of your city and the boards of your stages. We look at our own bookcases, in fact, and are hard-pressed to find a single bound script that doesn’t come from some ivory tower or other along your hallowed avenues.
I’m not sure what action elicited this reminder of our understanding. Here in our admittedly over-treed region, suitable tribute is always paid to the far-flung geniuses and the grand metropolises. Our grandest theaters are reserved almost exclusively to this tribute, our local arts funding to those who house our auspicious guests and their ghosts.
And while it’s true that we are guilty of making our own plays now and again, never has that threatened the natural order of things. Any play of any consequence will still find a way to your white way, and any play of inconsequence will rise and fall in its own small sphere and, surely, affect nothing and no one.
As for our complete lack of wherewithal to make real art for ourselves, I’m not sure I agree with you. I have seen many amazing things under our own lights, grown from our own minds—words never dreamed of by a billion metropolitans. Though perhaps I do not know what real art is.
Yours under the haunting silence of a misty night in November,
– Small Town


Dear Small Town,
I will be brief, although I hardly know where to start.
1. Theatre is spelled with an “re”.
2. If “ghosts” are supposed to refer to dead playwrights, I’d like you to take a minute to imagine theatre without those ghosts.
3. Make your plays. Just do not confuse them with Art, and do not confuse success with anything you will find under any silent, misty nights in whatever month may find you.
4. Your smug tone is not appreciated.
Yours in the center of everything spinning,
– The Big City


Dear Big City,
I think we may have veered off track. I love the city, and I could never imagine a world not inhabited by your ghosts and geniuses. But for theater(re) to be a living art, it has to make new work. Imagine if all bands were cover bands. Imagine if all painters gave all their energy to reproducing works of the past. Even if most of them did, what would that look like? With respect, it would look like theatre looks. It would look like your city.
There was a time when the genesis of new work shook that city to its granite foundations. What happened?
In my pajamas and with longing,
– Small Town


Dear Small Town,
I don’t know.
Unable to stop eating this Chinese takeout,
– The Big City


Dear Big City,
Do you want to talk about it?
With my listening face on,
– Small Town


Dear Small Town,
We are so lost. It is so bad. Tickets for plays are hundreds of dollars. No one will see them unless we cast celebrities. No one will produce them if they are at all risky, and no one—NO ONE—makes anything new. It’s possible to put up a new work downtown, but good luck getting anyone to see it, and good luck ever escaping the gravity of that hallowed ground that once shook the world with ideas and now shakes it with plummeting, caterwauling Spidermen.
Hyperventilating into a bag that smells like moo shu pork,
– The Big City


Dear Big City,
You will always be a factory of earth-shaking ideas, because talent is drawn to you like moths to a flame (Bad simile, sorry).
Listen. Theater (however you spell it) is, at its core, a simple thing. Cavemen told each other stories of the hunt. Priests told worshippers the words of their gods. All sorts of vaudeville burst into the world from whatever tent and tavern would house it. Theater was born wherever people gathered out of the human need to experience things together.
As much as we love your ghosts and your words, we need to make our own. I lied before about that. And I lied when I said it wasn’t threatening. I’m sorry. It is. As much as we pay tribute, tribute must be paid first to our own words, born from our own minds and our own time. Our definition of success can no longer only lead to far-off lands. We want a new theater like the old theater. Like a strange and magical religion—where we dance the dances of the dead, of course, but then dance on. Way out here. Under senseless trees. Together.
– Small Town


Dedicated to all those bringing new works to the stage in Northwest Washington: The Bellingham Theatre Guild, Everett Community College, iDiOM Theater, Little Bird Theatre, Northwest Passage Theater, Skagit Valley College, The Upfront Theatre, Village Theatre, Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College, and many more, many more to come.

 Epistle by Glenn Apollo Hergenhahn-Zhao