Stretching from the Shoulders

by Gavin Reub

in National Conference

Post image for Stretching from the Shoulders

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich.) 

I was sitting at my friend’s house, discussing the finer points of Central Asian tea-drinking, and more generally the trip our theatre company, The Seagull Project, was about to take to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Tyler had lived in Uzbekistan for a few years, but his wife, Malika, was born and bred there. As I attempted to pick up on the myriad of customs, which were about to overwhelm me on our trip – specifically, at this moment, how to talk to women – Malika stood up: “Uh, you Americans! You are so closed off, you lack truth, you lack spirit!” At first I was struck by her blunt comment – I was just trying to be polite after all – but then I was overwhelmed by a weight: it was true. I had been raised in country where to be polite means to be withheld, and to relate is just to listen and nod. How can we create art from the soul, unless we can speak from it without the fear of failure?

Theatre was born and bred out of community. The need to tell a story, and come together as a group is both a survival necessity and a cultural one. We tell stories to strengthen the group, while simultaneously expanding its breadth and passing along a piece of oneself in a stretch toward eternity. We tell bigger and more invested stories so we may take a larger step. As we refine our craft we get closer to God.

This goes back to the primal necessity of the live arts; the heart and soul of the piece that not only calls us back, but for which we feel we can’t do without. Call it spirituality, call it education, call it a friggin’ party; the exact need shifts from community to community, performance to performance, but one thing is always the same; we gather, we engage, and the world falls away.

When exactly did this stop becoming a necessity? How come we go to the theatre so often, not from pure need, but like force-fed cattle?

Like anything else, theatre was commercialized, and it happened a long time ago. Without any movies available, live theatre was one of few entertainment options, and the theater’s thrived. Much of the form may have lacked the intimacy and necessity of the first story, but the spectacle and story served as excellent entertainment, and the preface, or perhaps meat, of a social evening. Now, however, with easy and accessible entertainment on our person at all times this model is no longer efficient. I get my spectacle from Captain America, and I think I’ve heard that story before… We are saturated by media! The model is outdated, and perhaps most importantly, a bastardization of the heart of the matter.

So, how can we once again stretch toward eternity?

It has to start with the art. Employing a generic rehearsal model is a strangle to the artistic, and therefore, the communal product. When we discovered a time/money ratio for producing a show, is when it stopped being about the art, and became about a product. When we rediscover how to TAKE TIME, is when we start creating important art again. It may not fit in the season model, but good art sells.

Think about it this way: when you take the time to create a show, you also take the time to develop your community. “Who is interested in this? What do you think about it? How and why do you engage with it?” Picking up a process-based model is to start a conversation. To employ the community – other artists, educators, students – to engage with your art, to learn from one another, and to envelop the art in the local scene. The best way to make someone feel like they are part of something bigger, is to make it so. The larger the community, the more shoulders to stand on as we reach toward the heavens, the further the story will travel, and when you turn around you will see a room that is no longer an audience, but a newfound form of community.

That’s growth through truth. That’s social evolution.

We must also search for truth in our community. Truth in art is a good start, but we should thrive for truth in language, truth in intent. A culture soaked in irony is not a truthful one, but instead lies and passive aggression. We want to open the spirit of the community so we can grow together, so that the culture can expand, and our art and lives can be fuller than ever.

Let’s party after shows. Let’s open up the bar and encourage people to come early and stay late. Let’s have lectures on the topic, and murals near the theatre. Let’s offer workshops and classes, and go further than just enabling a banking system of education, but instead take those thoughts and plug them in.

More than anything, let’s take time to build our courage and stretch our muscles. How else do we expect to reach so far?


Gavin Reub is a Seattle-based director, producer, and dramaturg. He is the current Co-Artistic Director for The Seagull Project, which just returned from a historic trip touring their work in Tashkent, Uzbekistan; and Casting Associate at Book-It Repertory Theatre. Gavin has worked at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Ilkhom Theatre, ACT Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company, and Washington Ensemble Theatre. He graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in Drama and English.