Cryptomnesia is the tentative title of a new play I am writing for the Department of Theatre Arts at Lawrence University. The play will go up alongside three other pieces: Antonin Artaud's SPURT OF BLOOD, Samuel Beckett's WHAT WHERE, and Caryl Churchill's THIS IS A CHAIR.
When a new play is produced alongside other works, it typically appears in the company of other new plays; the experience of watching new work often elicits forced smiles and weariness, though a new piece can occasionally fire the imagination. The situation, in this case, is different. Artaud, Beckett, and Churchill are twentieth-century ogres, powerful and easily seen, mistreated but often admired for their strength. Of the three, only Churchill still lives. Artaud was loquacious on the purpose of art, but the other two typically remain silent.
I'm writing Cryptomnesia, a short play that will appear at the end of the program. It would be very easy to fuck this up, but things will turn out okay. Promise.
The other page describes Veterans' Voices, a program that I've been working on with Paul Woodruff. Paul comes from another generation. He served in Vietnam as a young Army lieutenant. He wrote plays as a young man, but ultimately focused on Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Thucydides. He studied at Oxford, earned a doctorate from Princeton, and then came to the University of Texas at Austin. After playing a pivotal role in the development of one of Texas' honors programs, he became the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, a position dedicated to improving the education of young students; this was an especially important task, because UT-Austin is a vast research university, and young people can easily get overwhelmed by the atmosphere. The purpose of public universities is higher education; active research plays a critical role in helping young minds ask and answer difficult questions, but it is also important to develop connections between young students and seasoned students--undergraduates and professors. Paul's work as Dean of Undergraduate Studies helped the university take major strides in building these sorts of relationships. He developed courses that ensured that young students have the opportunity to learn from professors who have a special gift for teaching. Paul also knows a great deal about Greek drama, having translated many of the tragedies and comedies of ancient Athens. His favorite modern play is Edward Albee's The Goat: or Who is Sylvia?
Paul has written a number of plays. I am especially interested in two of them: Ithaca in Black and White and Geoffrey's Jerusalem. It is one of my goals to produce these plays. I am working with Paul on Veterans' Voices because it will help me reach that goal.
What is Veterans' Voices? Since Paul and I have refused to incorporate the project into a non-profit, that is a little hard to pin down. But the main thrust is to communalize the cost of war at an emotional level. We do this through play readings, group recitations, story-telling, and (most importantly) listening. As playwrights, we try to tell the stories of others, and show how these stories reflect our life and times. As educators, we help place the experiences of individual people into the framework of a wider community. Sometimes, our purpose is classic catharsis. But other times we aim for pure expression.
Paul's is a member of UT-Austin's philosophy department. As a philosopher, he has written three books for a wider audience: The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched, Reverence:Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, and The Ajax Dilemma: Justice, Fairness, and Rewards; I think these books help express our values. Paul and I are a value-driven partnership. If you start with values, and then look for opportunities as you happen upon them, then you have a pretty good idea of who you are going to be, even if you are not entirely sure of how you are going to do it.