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An Openly Optimistic Letter to Performing Artists Freaking Out About Relevance During Hard Times

The change of perspective we offer as artists can become a change of heart, then a change of mind, then a change in life. Our fiction then, is our prediction.
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I wish that vomiting oil would stop. I hope so hard that the era of global women's abuse shrieks to a halt. I want this war (which war? Exactly) to end.

But as a playwright I'll tell you that the hardest part of the my job is finding that ending. A good ending is not too tidy, meaningful but not cheesy, possible but surprising -- a journey's end. Mainly, it should be earned. So that when the lights fade us into dark, when the director or editor cuts to black, when the actors bow, the audience is sent back to the "real world" just a little bit changed.

And that boundary from fiction back to reality is where art and entertainment are essential - now more than ever. (Though I can't imagine when I would say: "nah, we don't need any stories anymore, we're good.") Because what is our work if not to move people? Move them from experience to action through an imagined reality.

That world-building imagination that exposes our fears and our hopes and our bizarre humanity is a vital kind of vision. The change of perspective we offer as artists can become a change of heart, then a change of mind, then a change in life.

The worlds we create, produce, and share aren't just pretend, or product. They're practice.

Practice for that world we hope to see soon. Practice for getting us out of a crappy, oil-fed, oil-bleed age. Practice for confronting corruption, for empathizing with people we though we didn't understand, for sniffing out liars, for rejecting injustice, for making tough decisions, for laughing and falling in love and seeing beauty in spite of wreckage. (Cue violins.)

Our fiction then, is our prediction. With our imagination we are fortunetellers, and at best, fortune builders.

We are unlimited in our prophecies because we decide the ending. And creativity and foresight and determination are the true tools to remake this world in our best image. But we need an image. We, America, need our artists' images of goodness, truth, beauty, unity, humanity, hilarity, possibility.

We must dream it up, before we let it be.

Dreaming, manifesting, then sharing is our social responsibility.

So in hard times, let the artists damn the stress and dream up the world we want, give it breath and blood, and let it loose in our culture so that it roosts in the zeitgeist and fills the air with obvious urgency. Make it up so that it can be made.

Take up your laptops, your thread, your Avid, your Alexander Technique, your cameras, your colors... and at least some of the time in your rising careers, choose stories that help us clarify the world of our best image -- that expose joy, laugh at idiocy, speak truth to power and to complacency, make sincerity a cultural currency that we thought so overtaxed by cynicism and meanness, that entertain AND enlighten, that relish boldness and excellence of form, content, context, and like Dr. King and Mr. Shakespeare dreamed, character.

Don't let people say "art is escapism" and think that our feelings are hurt. Let us say, "We're not escaping life, we're stepping out to remember what life we want." We imagine a new world so that we may see it first, then we set it right.

This is how we, the artists and producers and patrons of a rich and powerful country, are essential. And we are. This is how we, the masons of storytelling, engineers of myth and meaning hold up a nation to itself. This is how we demand better. And boy do we need better.

Art isn't luxury nor irrelevant. Carelessness and cynicism are.

So when the story ends, and "real life" plunges back in like sunlight after a matinee, let's keep making those restless, curious, bold, satirical, hopeful, brutal, gorgeous kinds of fictional endings that help us see the real beginning.

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