“A Chinaman of the T'ang Dynasty—and, by which definition, a philosopher—dreamed he was a butterfly, and from that moment he was never quite sure that he was not a butterfly dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher. Envy him; in his two-fold security.”
-Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
One of the better features of the internet culture is the abreviated, expedited interaction with people one admires but who live in high castles. When I was growing up, there were these things called fan letters which were wonderful. You would write your thoughts out on paper and send it by post to the person you admired. The person would eventually read the note and possible send a response or at least they would sign one that their assistant wrote. Or have their assistant use the stamp with their signature. You would hear the stories of famous people corresponding with normals like the gods descending Olympus to mess with the humans.
I've always felt that it is a good thing to write to people who one admires. First of all, it's nice to tell people that you admire them and explain why. You are a better person for being the type of person who takes the time to actually do that. It is its own reward, but it is also nice to have a response. On the internet, such interactions are usually far more brief and less substantial, which is why I am still an ardent advocate for the dying art of letter writing. But I will also say that on the internet, in my experience, such interactions are more commonplace than trying to wring a letter from a celebrity.
Still, in the past week I've had two such brushes with people I admire, one of which inspired this blog post with a call for inspiration. Naturally, I follow fashion icon Michael Kors on Twitter and the other morning he asked what music people were listening to that morning. I responded "I opened Spotify, typed "Sondheim" into the search bar, put it on random, and am letting it play all morning." Mr. Kors expressed that he loved that response.
Heartened by approbation from so revered a source, I've been listening to a lot of Sondheim over the past few days. I adore Sondheim and it always reminds me of my first love: the theater. I majored in Theater in college with the intention of becoming a playwright. That didn't happen (or, rather, it may happen while I have another job throughout my life or happen after I'm dead) but the exchange and subsequent music reminded me of dream roles.
I think anyone who has been on stage has probably had roles which they would love to play. I imagine it has something to do with appreciation for the art and point of view which the character expresses. I am increasingly aware that I am on the far end of the portion of my life in which I could play The Dane (although there are still arguments to be made from the text for my potential in that role. I submit to you Gertrude's reaction to Hamlet's early poor performance in the fencing match: "He's fat, and scant of breath." I know! Sounds just like me, right?!!?) In about 20 years, I would love to play both Falstaff and Lear.
But I could talk about the history of theater and my favorite roles for... well, I imagine I could start a whole separate blog on that topic (I should like to ask Emily Post how many blogs are too many for one person. Perhaps I'll just pop down to the Underworld for a moment and see... Okay. No more blogs for me.)
So, as brevity is the soul of wit, let's get back to Sondheim, I was never cast in leads. I was always the slightly dark, slightly mad character who comes in at a point in the show and spices up the narrative, then leaves. I think I may be too dark for Pseudolus or The Baker but too light for Sweeney Todd or anyone in Assassins. My body reflects my fondness for the taste of hops too much to ever be cast as Seurat.
One of my favorite works by Sondheim is one of his less performed. He wrote a musical based on/rebooting The Frogs by Aristophanes. In the original, Dionysus descends into Hades to bring back the world's greatest playwright, Euripides, to the world of the living to solve the problems of modern life but, after a battle of wits between two dead playwrights, decides to bring back Aeschylus instead. In Sondheim's, Dionysus descends into Hades to bring back the world's greatest playwright, Shaw, to the world of the living to solve the problems of modern life but, after a battle of wits between two dead playwrights, decides to bring back Shakespeare instead. It is a wonderful play and if you've never seen it or heard the music from it before, I advise you to seek it out with all speed. Someday I would love to play Pluto. He has a number which is rip-roaring fun even while posing some serious philosophical and theological questions. How ought we live and why? What's stopping us? What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of afterlife?:
As a final thought in what's turning out to be a buckshot blog post topically speaking, I am rather chomping at the bit to get through the early Christian writing in the Harvard Classics because next is a volume of ancient Greek drama.
Plays are some of my favorite forms of literature to read. Much like poetry, they allow the reader to engage in the literary conversation so deeply. One gets to build the sets, cast the characters, and play all of the parts within one's own mind, free from any budgetary restraints. More importantly, one also gets to interact with the ideas expressed in the script, imagining ways to interpret, express, and possibly even subvert the material.
As a man whose dream life is that of a playwright and a man who is working toward a lively posthumous career as one, I encourage everyone to read more plays.