To say this is my manifesto seems to indicate that it’s the final say, the end-all-be-all of my work’s purpose. I don’t think there will ever be one of those. This, however, is more or less what I try to do a lot of the time.
When you see a particular performance or theatrical production, there is a moment when you connect so completely, with an overwhelming feeling of community, of synergy, a sometimes spiritual experience of feeling tapped-into something amazingly beautiful and larger than yourself, that feels so right, and makes you feel at once an immense elan, and a sadness in the knowledge that this is merely a fleeting state.
This is Jill Dolan‘s theory of utopian performatives. In her words: “That feeling of hope, or that feeling of desire, embodied by that suddenly hollow space in the pit of my stomach that drops me into an erotics of connection and commonality.”
This, she says, is a way that performance can inspire social change. It does not set an agenda for change, it does not show what the perfect world will look like; it does show what the perfect world will feel like, that it is a possibility, one we must strive for, whether or not we know how it will turn out. A compulsion may drive one to attempt change, the desire to live in that state, a “saudade” if you will (Portuguese word for an emotion akin to nostalgia but tinged with hope, also sometimes translated as a longing for something that does not and perhaps cannot exist). She explains her use of the word “utopia” not by the perfect-world definition which has been popularized, but by its historical and etymological definition of “no place”.
Similar experiences can be found in any aspect of life, in an event, con-text, conversation, in finding secret beauty, in a brilliantly comedic moment. Something we can’t exactly conceive of consciously, but that directs our systems of thought nonetheless. They are inexplicables just below the surface, that keep us going, push us forward, inspire us to find answers, to try to create and live in a better world.