It Takes a Village

I’ve been reading a lot in researching this project. Maybe too much.

But there is a lot to absorb: the science, the predictions and projections, but also what’s happening elsewhere, and how all of these factors interact to produce results. I’ve studied the history of how Boston reacts to disasters, and sought for light amidst all the tragic estimations.

Something I’ve been drawn to repeatedly is the idea of the village – even if mobile – and how people are drawn together amidst cataclysm. Despite narratives otherwise, disaster tends to bring people together: strangers help one another. Regular life routines are disrupted and everyone re-sets, their priorities re-focus: imminent needs are tended to often with a priority placed on helping others meet their needs: food, shelter, health.

I’m reminded of a Tuesday afternoon at the beginning of the century. I was living in Santa Fe with no TV, no access to news. I worked late nights and slept until 11 or noon. I checked my email and received a note from a friend who lived in NYC (it would have been 2 or 3pm his time). He wrote to say he was ok, happy in fact. He had spent the day at Central Park, where many people seemed to converge. Strangers were holding hands, buying each other ice cream and hot dogs. Someone brought a radio and someone brought a guitar. Friends who didn’t know each others’ names held hands and sang songs and danced. Someone fell in love. Someone offered a place to stay for the night.

It was hours later that night – when I went to work and saw the images on TV – before I understood what happened on that morning of September 11.

I am also reminded of a Monday afternoon in Boston a few years ago, and how, when it felt as though the very soul of the city was attacked, the citizens closed tightly together around that hole, like new skin growing over a wound to keep out the bad.

Stories I have often been drawn to in fiction or film show people – families, extended families, adopted families, and strangers – coming together in the midst of horror. I’ve returned to many of those stories as I dream up this play.

Here are a few that have impacted me hugely:

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath – the story of refugees from America’s last great climate disaster, a family that embraces others despite distrust and worry. I have the added memory of this being one of the first plays I worked on. A production is very much like a family coming together amidst disaster: it is a group of often strangers, working towards a single goal, setting aside selfishness to achieve something remarkable together.

Harry Potter series: is there a better contemporary story showing the power of adopted families? Name one, I dare you.

Voltaire’s Candide: a young man and his friends travel the world in search of heaven or truth, and find neither. What they do find is that the simple togetherness of people you care for, and the simple means of working to meet each other’s needs, might be the closest thing to heaven we have access to. With this work, I have also the memories of Mary Zimmerman’s production of the Bernstein musical, which the Huntington put on in 2011. It is still the highlight of my theatre-going career. Hearing a note from the final song fills me so immediately with joy and hope that I tear up, I think of sprouting roses, and I prepare to try again to be a better part of a community.

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