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Why Ghosts? A Letter to Kim Adams

During our recent fundraising drive, former Austin resident and theatre badass, Kim Adams, reached out to me to express her enthusiasm for the project. Her message was smart, kind, and - best of all - curious. She asked me "why Ghosts?" I'm so grateful to her, because I said I would respond at some point, so...I had to respond at some point. It took me weeks to pull the reply to the top of my to-do list, but a little Kim was sitting on my shoulder in those intervening weeks asking me, "Helen...um...seriously, why Ghosts?" I finally sat down and wrote her tonight. I'm so grateful to Kim. It was really valuable to write it all down - to sift my memory, feelings, and perceptions and plot it for her (and me). I thought my reply might be of some interest to someone. So I asked Kim if I could share a part of it here. Big shock, she was totally generous in her response and said your basic "heck yeah."


Dear Kim,


You asked me why Ghosts. I want to answer that, not just for you, but for me. I need to say up front that it is particularly Richard Eyre’s adaptation of Ghosts I wanted to do. If we hadn’t gotten the rights, we’d have done an entirely different play I think. This version is lean, swift, vital, so watchable, and possibly the first version I’ve seen that seemed populated by living humans whose fate I was questioning all the way through. I am up for the wonkiest, most chess-like Ibsen, but I wouldn’t put a normal translation in front of an uninitiated audience, and I wouldn’t have felt the fever I felt for exposing others to it like I do for this version.


To be honest, I can’t remember what part of the plan came first. It started with my seeing this version online at DigitalTheatre.com and just wanting it. Just wanting it to happen. Somewhere. Anywhere. As many places as it could. I was spending the evening with a neighbor around the same time, the one who owns the beautiful house that will be our venue. The, I don’t know, the romance of her home always hangs on me after I leave it. It’s not just that it’s a home built by wealth. I have lots of clients with those. It’s that it’s both grand and homey; it’s being lived in, at this very moment, but it’s also historic. And it seems historic, not just in the broader cultural sense, but in a very private sense. I always have the feeling of real lives having been lived out there.


One of the luxuries that the solitude of my work affords me is watching, thinking about, and being moved pretty regularly at how every single person is a universe. Almost everything you can think of gets played out in a single life. And I have a hyper-sense of that in Mary and Steve’s (the hosts) home. So, there’s that as an ingredient in my process here. When the two obsessions were crowding for space in my brain they just sort of started to seem like one thing. The parlor in that house...after a while, I could only see the show there. The space seemed so perfectly contained - like a theatre, like a home, and like a universe.


There’s the practical aspect too. If we were bringing a tiny group in to watch a show close up, I wanted them to be consumed by it, but not feel like they had to do anything. I wanted it to feel “unsafe” only in the most pleasant way. Comedy in a small space is terrifying. The audience has to laugh. It’s incredibly stressful and makes the audience too aware of their own bodies. Though this is a moving show, a show that could really shake one’s soul, it’s not really “a tear jerker” which I think can also be stressful for some people. People might cry watching it. I did. More likely they will just watch with their mouths open leaning forward. I hope so anyway. It’s a safe bit of “un-safety.”


Then there was the very personal feeling I get from this version. I have, of course, been reading up on the show a bit. People discuss a lot of themes, but for me, at least in this version, the thing that surfaces over and over again is rarely talked about, which I think is weird because it’s such a load-bearing theme. It’s the idea of “Agency” which dazzles me. Ultimately I think that’s THE idea of the play. People talk “freedom” in it, but I think Agency is a stronger word for it. To have freedom you must accept ALL of it. If they accept the cut-out roles of mother, father, son, sister, wife, pastor, widow - much of their decisions make themselves. Yes, one has to obey the rules but one also gets to obey the rules. You either lean into your prescribed role and accept the yoke of it (and relax at the lack of accountability), or you can lean into the freedom of being a human (and accept that every decision, every spiritual and cognitive buck will be stopping at your desk forever). Her last lap in becoming fully herself is choosing her last big choice. She has no reference. She has to build herself, almost, from scratch. I love this. And I want other people to be exposed to it. I wanted badly to share this.


Ugh, thanks for asking. Hope you are still awake. H

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