Escape Artists

Being introduced to how the Horse in Motion company works has been a complete joy. Our work thus far has been heavily based on the Viewpoints, with some improv here and there, and even some yoga. The majority of my personal experience with the Viewpoints however, comes from my time in Vancouver (the American one) before I even came to the University of Washington. The process, therefore, has been an interesting mix of new learning and previous knowledge that I am bringing with me into the rehearsal room.

The whole endeavor so far has felt, from an acting standpoint, very, very good. The tools I was given before coming to Seattle have been invaluable in freeing me up to focus on creating and contributing, rather than trying to get out of my head. And the continued learning from the Horse in Motion company has only strengthened those instincts. If I may share something a little tragic: I never thought before that I could be creative. I used to think that as an actor I was just a tool for playwrights and more “creative” people to tell their stories; that I wasn’t capable of bringing anything new into the world. But over the past several weeks of compositions, I have been inspired to create things that I am truly proud of both for …And Hilarity Ensues…, and my own personal artistic pursuits. It is a wonderful thing to enact the words of a great playwright before an audience, but it is a truly magical thing to discover those words with a group of like­minded artists, and make a story that is new and special.

See, every story has a message, a seed, an argument that it has to present to the world. If you’re watching Fury Road (a personal favorite of mine), then you may see strong themes of hope, of survival and empowerment. If you’re reading Macbeth (also a favorite), themes of ambition, tyranny and sacrifice will emerge. Escapism is the theme that the Horse in Motion company has taken on for their newest play in ­production: …And Hilarity Ensues…. And what a fascinating theme it is!

Escapism may not immediately appear as glamorous as an epic post­ Apocalyptic chase through the Australian outback, and believe me, neither are most of the plays we are dealing with (I’m looking at you Trelawney of the Wells). Just in case you were not aware of the details, we are composing a completely new work using eight of the plays produced by the UW School of Drama in its first season. These plays include Trelawney of the Wells, Star Wagon, The Tavern, Perfect Alibi, Outward Bound, Hay Fever, Right You Are, and The Tempest. But whilst some of these plays may seem antiquated to us now, we are working tirelessly to draw out the most relevant and engaging parts to create an experience that will resonate with people, young and old, right now. This in itself is a splendid challenge, but not as difficult as the things we must constantly stop to ask ourselves in the quest to explore escapism.

The questions being asked right now aren’t new; they are integral to our craft. They are the same things we must face as actors whenever we say to ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” What is the purpose of acting, of the theatre, and of art and culture in general? There are a multiplicity of answers to that question, but escapism is one of them. Art is inherently escapist, but what exactly does that mean? If escapism is a bad thing, is art, by association, also a bad thing?

One thing becomes abundantly clear as we move on through these plays: We are all escape artists. The amount of retreating that we all do on a daily, even hourly basis is appalling Escapism runs the gamut from playing on your phone to alcoholism, from collecting stamps to making love.

I should note for you here my bias, which colors my vocabulary somewhat. Because escapism for me personally has always had a negative connotation, I tend to use such terms as “appalling” to describe escapist behavior. We have set out to study escapism as objectively as possible, with the explicit aim to not portray it either negatively or positively. However, inevitably in rehearsals we do see examples of escapism that we may agree with or disapprove of, and that is all part of the wonderful discussion we are having!

Before embarking on …And Hilarity Ensues…, I thought of escapism as a coping mechanism, irresponsible, even cowardly. But I am working hard to break myself of this notion, because our work is constantly proving to me that escapism is a broad, complex idea. Which brings me back around to art. When you step into the theatre, whether you are seeing Fury Road or Macbeth, you can expect to see real people in extraordinary circumstances. Stories raise us up, inspire us, and sometimes caution us. This is why we still tell stories to one another: Because great art imitates life. Escapism is a truly intricate thing, but possibly a vital component of human civilization. Therefore can something which seemingly removes us from reality actually serve to enrich our lives.

A bold claim, indeed! What possible evidence could I have to support it? Well I could spend another 2000 pages talking about that, but I would like to offer a much more attractive alternative: Come see …And Hilarity Ensues… and experience the answer for yourself.